A team of experts from the multi-institutional Palomar Transient Factory (PTF) survey announces, in the August 24 issue of the top journal Science, the discovery of the first Type Ia supernova progenitor star system. The video above details how the binary structure will eventually blow up.
Called PTF 11kx, the system contains a white dwarf and a red giant, which orbit each other at very close distances. They are located around 600 million light-years away, in the constellation Lynx, and are known to have produced at least one nova eruption thus far.
The study confirms that not all Type Ia supernovae are produced in the same way. Some may come from binary systems featuring red giants, while others may occur in systems that have two white dwarfs. In the former scenario, matter is gradually accreted from the dying red giant by the dwarf.
This scenario can lead to the emergence of repeating novas. As the white dwarf accretes mass from its companion, it loses balance, and explodes the excess material in a nova blast. The process then resumes, with a new blast following several decades later.