This artist's conception shows the suspected progenitor of a new kind of supernova called Type Iax. Material from a hot, blue helium star at right is funneling toward a carbon/oxygen white dwarf star at left, which is embedded in an accretion disk. In many cases the white dwarf survives the subsequent explosion. Credit: Christine Pulliam (CfA) Enlarge

(Phys.org) —Supernovae were always thought to occur in two main varieties. But a team of astronomers including Carnegie's Wendy Freedman, Mark Phillips and Eric Persson is reporting the discovery of a new type of supernova called Type Iax.

This research has been accepted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal and is available online.

Previously, supernovae were divided into either core-collapse or Type Ia categories. Core-collapse supernovae are the explosion of a star about 10 to 100 times as massive as our sun. Type Ia supernovae are the complete disruption of a tiny white dwarf.

This new type, Iax, is fainter and less energetic than Type Ia. Although both types come from exploding white dwarfs, Type Iax supernovas may not completely destroy the white dwarf.

"A Type Iax supernova is essentially a mini supernova," says lead author Ryan Foley, Clay Fellow at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA). "It's the runt of the supernova litter."

The research team—which also included Max Stritzinger, formerly of Carnegie—identified 25 examples of the new type of supernova. None of them appeared in elliptical galaxies, which are filled with old stars. This suggests that Type Iax supernovas come from young star systems.

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