The Star That Never Died

Sany Gómez

The stars, just like us, are born and then die. However, the life of a star can be as long as up to ten million years. The nearest star to us, the Sun, wouldn’t even be in its early thirties compared to humans’ lifespan.  Being only 4.5 billion years old, it still has 6 billion years left to shine. However, there are many other kinds of celestial bodies to examine that may not follow the same rule.

Every time an explosion takes place in a star, it is said that this turns into a supernova: a phenomenon that signifies the end of its life. It has been a process perceived several times by astronomers for many years. Nevertheless, there are still findings that make us question these ideas we thought of as fact.

A team from the Observatory Las Cumbres, California, seems to have found an exception to this phenomenon with star iPTF14htls.

When it was first discovered in September 2014, it looked like a normal star, but, just like the Nature magazine showed in one of its articles, a few months later they noticed something that, until then, hadn´t been observed: after losing intensity on its glow, the supernova became more and more glistering. The explosion had taken place 500 million light years away from our perspective.

The usual thing for such a body is for it to reach a peak of brightness and then for it to start fading within the next following 100 days. However, iPTF14hls became brighter for the two subsequential years, the intensity of its light increasing by a factor of 5. Even now, three years later, it keeps shining.

Findings in the archives

In order to try and clarify the mysterious behavior, scientists, lead by Iair Arcavi of The University of California, Los Angeles, took a helping hand from the archives saved in the astronomic registers and came to the surprise to discover that, from the same region of the sky from which iPTF14hls was found, another explosion had taken place in the year 1954.

According to their calculations, this star that exploded giving place to the new supernova had a mass of 50 times the Sun. They even sustained that iPTF14hls could be the most massive star that humanity has ever seen explode.

“Until that moment, it was thought, that blasts like these only happened during the first stages of the universe. It is like finding a living dinosaur today,” compared Andy Howell, co-author of the study.

“It has been 50 years since astronomers have speculated, from a theorist point of view, with the existence of supernovas exceptionally glowing called supernovas due to peer instability,” explains Rafael Bachiller, director of the IGN.  It would be, in a way, an impostor, since it may look like a supernova and it loses solar masses, after the explosion, it recomposes itself. These successive explosions are being called `pulses.’

New remarks on the blast indicate that we are in the face of a star which is truly peculiar and shows unused behavior.

Nonetheless, studies have come to the conclusion that iPTF14hls will not avoid death. We must still take into account that in each one of its explosions, the supernova loses a percentage of its mass. Once the moment has arrived, the star will end its days with a final explosion that will be practically indistinguishable from its previous explosions.

Edited by: Kaylynn Crawford and Shreya Singireddy