The discovery of a supernova type Ia progenitor at the heart of a planetary nebula
I will report on the results of our paper published in Nature this week, outlining the discovery of a super-Chandrasekhar double-degenerate binary system at the heart of the planetary nebula Hen 2-428. Planetary nebulae (PNe) represent the final stage in the evolution of low- and intermediate-mass stars, forming from the mass ejected by the star during its AGB evolution before being ionised by the star's, now exposed, core. As binarity is expected to play a key role in the formation of aspherical PN morphologies, we have been intensively searching for new binary central stars in a push towards a statistical sample. One of our newly-discovered binary systems, lying at the heart of Hen 2-428, had a further surprise to reveal, with observations and modelling showing the system to consist of twin evolved stars with a total mass greater than the Chandrasekhar limit. The short period of the system, only 4.2 hours, means that the two stars will merge together in approximately 700 Myr, resulting in a Supernova Type Ia. While the super-Chandrasekhar merger of two white dwarfs has long been considered a formation pathway for SN Ia, this is the first system found that is confirmed to be both massive enough and in a tight enough orbit to merge in less than a Hubble time.
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