A trio of lonesome stars explode in voids between galaxies

By Marilyn Malara
Images of one of the three stars that have gone supernova. Photo by Melissa Graham/CFHT/HST
1 of 3 | Images of one of the three stars that have gone supernova. Photo by Melissa Graham/CFHT/HST

WASHINGTON, June 6 (UPI) -- New images released this week from the Hubble Space Telescope reveal that three solitary stars -- unassociated with any galaxy -- have exploded light-years away from their closest observable neighbors.

These stars each went supernova alone in deep space between galaxies, and were first discovered between 2008 and 2010 via the telescope on Mauna Kea in Hawaii. Then, researchers weren't sure whether the supernovae were located within a galaxy, but he most recent, crisper images taken with Hubble show that the stars are indeed each alone.


If any planets were orbiting the stars at the time of their explosion, they would have been obliterated, says Melissa Graham, a Berkeley researcher and lead author of a new supernova study. But before the explosion, she says that the night sky viewable from them would have been quite different than our own: virtually star-less.

"It would have been a fairly dark background indeed, populated only by the occasional faint and fuzzy blobs of the nearest and brightest cluster galaxies," Graham said in a statement.

The observed stars may have exploded as Type la supernova -- a type of stellar explosion that is thought to occur when a small star orbiting a larger one breaks down as it feeds the larger star, Mashable explains. If so, the stars may have had some company.


"We have provided the best evidence yet that intracluster stars truly do explode as Type Ia supernovae," Graham said, "and confirmed that hostless supernovae can be used to trace the population of intracluster stars, which is important for extending this technique to more distant clusters."

Without exploding, the three lonely stars -- likely kicked-out from their original galaxies millions of years ago-- would not have been discoverable with today's technology. Graham and her team are continuing their search for other lonely dying stars in order to discover previously unseen star clusters in the mysterious span of space between galaxies.

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