Type 1a Supernovae: Why Our Standard Candle Isn’t Really Standard

When I joined Phenomena, Carl Zimmer asked: What obsesses you? One of my obsessions, I answered, is type 1a supernovae. Here we go.

How can an astronomical object of such crucial cosmological importance remain so fundamentally mysterious?

When a runaway thermonuclear explosion rips through a white dwarf star and blows the star to bits, it’s called a type 1a supernova. These explosions are incredibly violent and incredibly bright, sometimes outshining entire galaxies. Thought to occur about once every two centuries in a galaxy like the Milky Way, these stellar cataclysms are relatively frequent events.

The star doing the exploding is a white dwarf with a fairly ...

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