Wolfgang Kerzendorf

PhD candidate, 2008

"It's like looking for a straw in a hay stack, but unfortunately we don't know anything about the straw like it's colour or size. It might not even be there."

A team of Australian astronomers is looking for the trigger of a cosmic explosion discovered by Dutch astronomer Tycho Brahe in 1572. It is still unclear why events like this, which are refered to as supernovae, occur. 
 
Astronomers speculate that these explosions happen when a dead, smoldering star circles around a living star similar to our sun. In this situation the living star, which is called the donor star, transfers material to the dead one. This  brings the dead star back to life for a few moments before it explodes violently. The donor star is shot away and is covered in debris. To tell if this scenario is correct the donor star needs to be found. 
 
The recent discovery of Dark Energy was done using these types of explosions. So it is a very important task to understand these tools better. 
 
The Australian astronomers are currently looking at stars in the region of space near the event of 1572. Using large telescopes they study the spectrum coming from these stars. They're looking for evidence which identifies the donor star. This might be an unusual speed or chemical composition. 
 
Wolfgang Kerzendorf, part of the team, explains the difficulties with the task, ``It's like looking for a straw in a hay stack, but unfortunately we don't know anything about the straw like it's colour or size. It might not even be there. The sheer variety of stars make it difficult to single one out. The search around the explosion site might not turn up anything at all. This does not mean that there are no donor stars in general.  We may need to look at different explosion sites to find a donor star.''

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