The planetary nebula stage is the ultimate fate of stars with masses one to eight times that of the Sun ( ). The origin of their complex morphologies is poorly understood1, although several mechanisms involving binary interaction have been proposed2, 3. In close binary systems, the orbital separation is short enough for the primary star to overfill its Roche lobe as the star expands during the asymptotic giant branch phase. The excess gas eventually forms a common envelope surrounding both stars. Drag forces then result in the envelope being ejected into a bipolar planetary nebula whose equator is coincident with the orbital plane of the system. Systems in which both stars have ejected their envelopes and are evolving towards the white dwarf stage are said to be double degenerate. Here we report that Henize 2-428 has a double-degenerate core with a combined mass of ~1.76 , which is above the Chandrasekhar limit (the maximum mass of a stable white dwarf) of 1.4 . This, together with its short orbital period (4.2 hours), suggests that the system should merge in 700 million years, triggering a type Ia supernova event. This supports the hypothesis of the double-degenerate, super-Chandrasekhar evolutionary pathway for the formation of type Ia supernovae4.
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