New observations of nova V906 Carinae have provided some of the first direct evidence that the observed brightening of these stellar objects is driven by shock waves. Novae form when hydrogen from a companion star settles onto a white dwarf. Once enough material accumulates, the white dwarf blows out the excess hydrogen in a donut-shaped shell moving about the speed of a typical solar wind.
Next, another outflow — likely triggered by residual nuclear reactions on the dwarf’s surface — slams into the denser shell at about twice the speed. This collision triggers shock waves that emit light in the gamma and visible wavelengths. Weeks later, a third, even faster outflow expanded into the cloud, generating more shock waves and measurable flares. (Video credit: NASA Goddard; research credit: E. Aydi et al.)