Ultra rare ‘hypernova’ star explosion detected in Milky Way for first time

A massive, ultra rare explosion dating back to the earliest days of the universe could explain a 13 billion year old mystery.

Scientists have found evidence of a new stellar explosion, known as a "magneto-rotational hypernova", which may have composed another star in the Milky Way.

When stars die a violent death, in a supernova, they leave behind a stew of elements that form new stars.

Scientists believe this supernova, which would have been 10 times brighter and more energetic than a typical supernova, is believed to have formed a star which has been on the fringes of the Milky Way for 13 billion years.

The star, known as SMSS J200322.54-114203.3, contains unusually high amounts of elements that scientists were previously unable to account for.

Astronomers led by David Yong, Gary Da Costa and Chiaki Kobayashi based at the Australian National University, discovered the evidence of the destruction of a collapsed rapidly spinning star.

This previously unknown type of cataclysm – which occurred barely a billion years after the Big Bang – may finally explain the origins of this ancient star.

The researchers propose the violent collapse now known as a "magneto-rotational hypernova" can happen to a very early star.

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  • The research was published in the 'Nature' journal.

    Dr Yong said: "The star we're looking at has an iron-to-hydrogen ratio about 3000 times lower than the Sun – which means it is a very rare: what we call an extremely metal-poor star.

    "However, the fact that it contains much larger than expected amounts of some heavier elements means that it is even rarer – a real needle in a haystack."

    Associate Professor Chiaki Kobayashi, from the University of Hertfordshire, explained: "The extra amounts of these elements had to come from somewhere.

    "We now find the observational evidence for the first time directly indicating that there was a different kind of hypernova producing all stable elements in the periodic table at once — a core-collapse explosion of a fast-spinning strongly-magnetised massive star.

    "It is the only thing that explains the results."

    Dr Yong added: "It's an explosive death for the star.

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    "We calculate that 13 billion-years ago J200322.54-114203.3 formed out of a chemical soup that contained the remains of this type of hypernova.

    "No one's ever found this phenomenon before."

    The star was first identified using SkyMapper and a telescope, before detailed observations were made using a very large telescope in Chile.

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