Scientists observed a new type of supernova for the first time

In 2017, astronomers detected an unusual source of extremely luminous radio waves. Scientists have now been able to determine what caused that unusual radio wave burst. According to a team of astronomers from Caltech, the radio flare resulted from a black hole or neutron star colliding with its companion star.

The result of the collision is a process that has never been seen before. Typically, massive stars explode in a supernova when they run out of nuclear fuel. However, in this case, a black hole or neutron star triggered the companion star to go supernova prematurely. The discovery marks the first time a supernova triggered by a merger has been confirmed.

Researcher Dillon Dong focused on an extremely luminous source of radio waves from a VLA survey called VT 1210+4956. Researchers point out the source of the radio waves tied for the brightest radio transient ever associated with a supernova event. Originally, Dong believed the radio energy was a star surrounded by dense gas.

The radio transient event was thought to have occurred when the star exploded in a supernova, and material from the explosion interacted with the gas. However, further investigation discovered something a bit more unusual about the event. Dong discovered x-rays originating from the same location in the sky as VT 1210+4956.

The investigation determined that x-rays and radio waves were coming from the same event. The x-ray transient signaled a relativistic jet was created at the time of the explosion while the luminous radio glow indicated material from the explosion later impacted dense gas ejected from the star centuries earlier. Those two types of events were never associated with each other and are very rare. Modeling led the team to determine that the event involved a black hole or neutron star closely orbiting another star that eventually merged with its companion leading to a supernova.