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Inverse Daily

Astronomers catch a stellar explosion a millionth as powerful as a supernova

Plus: This is why Oreos split like that.

engin akyurt / 500px/500Px Plus/Getty Images

If a star explodes in the cosmos and no one is there to see it, does it really explode? Yes, it does — although it might do so in a rather unexpected way. After years of sleuthing, astronomers have discovered a new kind of stellar explosion that is still a bang but more at the whimpering end of the spectrum than a typical supernova. Their finding could explain forty years’ worth of astronomer reports of strange flashes coming from some white dwarf stars they couldn’t explain.

You can read all about it in today’s edition of Inverse Daily. Hello, it is Thursday, and I am Claire Cameron, managing editor of Inverse. We need you! Vote for Inverse Daily in this year’s Webby Awards — we’re nominated for the People’s Choice award, and we hope you choo-choo-choose us.

This is an adapted version of the Inverse Daily newsletter for Thursday, April 21, 2022. Subscribe for free and learn something new every day.

A concept image of a micronova explosion.ESO/M. Kornmesser, L. Calçada

Meet the micronova

In a paper published Wednesday in Nature, a team of astronomers describes small, fast stellar explosions, which they’ve named micronovae. A micronova can flare up in minutes and fade in just a few hours — Kiona Smith has more:

The study’s authors suggest that a micronova happens when a white dwarf (a small, dense remnant of a Sun-like star that burned up all its fuel) pulls in material from a nearby star. If a white dwarf’s magnetic field is strong enough, it channels that incoming material to a small area around its magnetic poles, where it triggers a relatively small, contained thermonuclear reaction. The resulting explosion is about a millionth as powerful as a typical nova.

The discovery came after a series of bright, fast bursts of light from three white dwarfs caught researchers’ attention — but it took them years to solve this cosmic mystery. Let’s dig into how they did it.

Continue reading.

Were pterosaurs the first creatures to develop feathers?Corey Ford/Stocktrek Images/Stocktrek Images/Getty Images

This ancient creature developed feathers long before the dinosaurs

A pterosaur specimen from Brazil could rewrite what we know about the evolution of feathers — and the relationship between pterosaurs and dinosaurs. There’s substantial evidence that theropod dinosaurs, the ancestors of modern birds, also wielded feathery coats. But the origin of feathers is still up for debate.

Recent research shows that the flying cousins to dinosaurs, pterosaurs, may also have had feathers — an assertion that would not only change our understanding of what pterosaurs looked like but significantly push back the timeline for feather evolution.

Writing this week in the journal Nature, researchers examine the specimen of a pterosaur from the Early Cretaceous that likely had feathers, and colorful ones at that.

The specimen from Brazil reveals the partial skull of a medium-sized pterosaur, Tupandactylus imperator. The feather-like structures branch from an area just below the pterosaur’s head crest, and a bit of soft tissue was also preserved on limestone slabs.

Go deeper.

Wowee.NASA

Dazzling Hubble image shows five galaxies bunched together

The Hubble Space Telescope is 32 years young and still going strong: NASA just released a stunning photo of the Hickson Compact Group 40, a group of five galaxies that appear so close they could touch.

Hubble spotted this close-knit collection by peering into the middle of the constellation Hydra (the sea serpent), which is visible in both the Northern and Southern Hemisphere.

According to the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, galaxies are rarely found alone in space. HCG 40 qualifies as an assembly of galaxies, and larger collections are known as clusters or groups. The fabulous five of HCG 40 will collide in about 1 billion years, says a new NASA image description. They’ll likely go on to form a giant elliptical galaxy.

This observation is one of more than 1.5 million views of the sky the NASA/ESA space telescope has made since it took its first photo on May 20, 1990.

The Hubble deployed in space on April 25, 1990, when the Space Shuttle Discovery opened up its cargo bay and let the 43-foot telescope out into Earth orbit.

Happy birthday.

Do you eat the whole thing or one side at a time?Crispin la valiente/Moment/Getty Images

Scientists finally know why Oreo filling always sticks to one side

To Crystal Owens, Oreos defy logic. When split apart, each of the two cookies ought to have an equal amount of creme. At least, that’s what she expects from the physics.

“It’s just logical,” Owens tells Inverse. So, she and a team at MIT looked into the fluid dynamics of Oreos, pioneering a new field. Since the physics of fluid dynamics is called rheology, it’s only apt that the study of Oreo fluidics is called Oreology. Owens is also a Ph.D. student at MIT, and now the world’s pre-eminent Oreologist.

In a paper published this week in a specialty issue of the journal Physics of Fluids, Owens explains the science behind this snack’s mechanics. The goal of the Oreology experiment was to explain once and for all why the creme sticks to one cookie when an Oreo cookie sandwich is split.

Mystery solved.

There are thousands of these babies, at least.Shutterstock

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  • On this day in history: The New York World’s Fair of 1964-65 opened for the second and final season. Its legacy can still be seen at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in Queens (or in the Men In Black).
  • Song of the day: Another Girl, Another Planet,” by The Only Ones.

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