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    Nova Background

    See also:
    Nova - Wikipedia

    Definition

    A nova is a cataclysmic nuclear explosion caused by the accretion of hydrogen on to the surface of a white dwarf star, which ignites and starts nuclear fusion in a runaway manner.

    Basics

    A nova (pl. novae) is not to be confused with supernovae or luminous red novae.

    Astronomers estimate that the Milky Way experiences roughly 30 to 60 novae per year, with a likely rate of about 40. The number of novae discovered in the Milky Way each year is much lower, about 10. Roughly 25 novae brighter than about magnitude 20 are discovered in the Andromeda Galaxy each year and smaller numbers are seen in other nearby galaxies.

    Spectroscopic observation of nova ejecta nebulae has shown that they are enriched in elements such as helium, carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, neon, and magnesium. The contribution of novae to the interstellar medium is not great; novae supply only 1/50th as much material to the Galaxy as supernovae, and only 1/200th as much as red giant and supergiant stars.

    Recurrent novae like RS Ophiuchi (those with periods on the order of decades) are rare. Astronomers theorize however that most, if not all, novae are recurrent, albeit on time scales ranging from 1,000 to 100,000 years. The recurrence interval for a nova is less dependent on the white dwarf's accretion rate than on its mass; with their powerful gravity, massive white dwarfs require less accretion to fuel an outburst than lower-mass ones. Consequently, the interval is shorter for high-mass white dwarfs.

    The astronomer Tycho Brahe observed the supernova SN 1572 in the constellation Cassiopeia, and described it in his book de stella nova (Latin for "concerning the new star"), giving rise to the name nova. In this work he argued that a nearby object should be seen to move relative to the fixed stars, and that the nova had to be very far away. Though this was a supernova and not a classical nova, the terms were considered interchangeable until the 1930s.

    Novae have some promise for use as standard candles. For instance, the distribution of their absolute magnitude is bimodal, with a main peak at magnitude −8.8, and a lesser one at −7.5. Novae also have roughly the same absolute magnitude 15 days after their peak (−5.5). Comparisons of nova-based distance estimates to various nearby galaxies and galaxy clusters with those done with Cepheid variable stars have shown them to be of comparable accuracy.

    Topics of Interest

    A U Geminorum-type variable star, or dwarf nova (pl. novae) is a type of cataclysmic variable star consisting of a close binary star system in which one of the components is a white dwarf, which accretes matter from its companion. They are similar to classical novae in that the white dwarf is involved in periodic outbursts, but the mechanisms are different: classical novae result from the fusion and detonation of accreted hydrogen, while current theory suggests that dwarf novae result from instability in the accretion disk, when gas in the disk reaches a critical temperature that causes a change in viscosity, resulting in a collapse onto the white dwarf that releases large amounts of gravitational potential energy.

    A supernova (pl. supernovae) is a stellar explosion. Supernovae are extremely luminous and cause a burst of radiation that often briefly outshines an entire galaxy, before fading from view over several weeks or months. During this short interval, a supernova can radiate as much energy as the Sun could emit over its life span. The explosion expels much or all of a star's material at a velocity of up to 30,000 km/s (a tenth the speed of light), driving a shock wave into the surrounding interstellar medium. This shock wave sweeps up an expanding shell of gas and dust called a supernova remnant.

    Hypernova (pl. hypernovae) refers to an exceptionally large star that collapses at the end of its lifespan — for example, a collapsar, or a large supernova. Until the 1990s, it referred specifically to an explosion with an energy of over 100 supernovae (1046 joules); such explosions were proposed to explain the origin of exceptionally bright gamma ray bursts. An extensive sky search found several apparent hypernova remnants, but too few to support the hypothesis.

    A luminous red nova (abbr. LRN, pl. luminous red novae, pl.abbr. LRNe) is a stellar explosion thought to be caused by the merger of two stars. They are characterised by a distinct red colour, and a light curve that lingers with resurgent brightness in the infrared. Luminous red novae are not to be confused with standard novae, explosions that occur on the surface of white dwarf stars.

    A nova remnant is made up of the material either left behind by the gigantic explosion of a star in a nova, or from the bubbles of gas blasted away in a recurrent nova. It has an expansion velocity of around 1000 km/s, and has a lifetime of a few centuries. Nova remnants are much less massive than supernova remnants or planetary nebulae.

    In astronomy the term guest star refers to a star which has suddenly appeared visible in the place where no star had previously been observed and becomes invisible again after some time. The term is a literal translation from ancient Chinese astronomical records. Modern astronomy recognizes that guest stars are manifestations of cataclysmic variable stars: novae and supernovae. Still, the term "guest star" is still used in in the context of ancient records, since the exact classification of an astronomical event in question is based on interpretations of old records, rather than on direct observations. In ancient Chinese astronomy guest stars (ke xing) were one of the three types of "new stars", the other two being comets in modern understanding. The earliest Chinese record of guest stars is contained in Han Shu, the history of Han Dynasty (206 BCE — 220 CE), and all subsequent dynastic histories had such records.

    Supernova impostors are stellar explosions that appear at first to be a type of supernova but do not destroy their progenitor stars. As such, they should be considered to be a class of extra-powerful novae. They are also known as Type V supernovae, Eta Carinae analogs, and giant eruptions of luminous blue variables LBV.

    Source: Wikipedia (All text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License and Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License.)

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