Supernovae

SupernovaThe Crab Nebula, one of the most famous nebulae and seen here by the Hubble Space Telescope, is actually the expanding explosion of a core collapse supernova, the light of which was bright enough to be seen here on Earth in the year 1054 CE, as documented by Chinese astronomers at the time. (Credit: NASA)

Supernovae (singular: supernova) are the rare and extremely powerful explosions of massive stars late in their evolutionary histories. Most supernovae fall into two broad categories: thermal runaway or core collapse. The former—known technically as Type Ia supernovae—are thought to involve white dwarf stars, which are stars like our Sun but much older. In gathering extra mass from a companion star, or possibly from merging with another white dwarf, these tiny, dense stars can undergo runaway nuclear fusion, violently blowing up in the process. In contrast, core collapse supernovae develop from stars initially much more massive and larger than the Sun. When the energy released by the nuclear fusion in these giant stars no longer balances the contracting force of gravity, the whole star can suddenly fall in on itself, triggering a cataclysmic explosion. Astrophysicists keenly study supernovae not only to understand the mechanics of stars, but also to learn more about the abundance of elements in the cosmos, the heavier varieties of which are created by these uncommon events. Supernovae also influence star formation on local scales and potentially on up to whole galaxies. Furthermore, scientists rely on Type Ia supernova to gauge cosmic distances. Unexpectedly faint Type 1a supernovae in distant galaxies led to the 1998 discovery of the accelerating expansion of the universe, on account of dark energy.

Galactic 'Gold Mine' Explains the Origin of Nature's Heaviest Elements

May 10, 2016
Neutron star collision

Three astrophysicists—Anna Frebel, Alexander Ji and Enrico Ramirez-Ruiz—discuss the answer to a 60-year-old cosmic mystery: the origin of some of the most precious elements in the universe.

Captured at Last: The Tiny Stars that Spark Fierce Supernovae Explosions

Aug 17, 2015
Type 1a Supernova

We finally know the ingredients that fire up a particular kind of supernova. Four researchers - Lars Bildsten, Laura Chomiuk, Daniel Kasen and Andrew Howell - explain why a better understanding of how certain stars die can help reveal the evolution of the cosmos.

Delving Into the 'Dark Universe' with the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope

May 27, 2015
An illustration of the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST)

Two astrophysicists and a theoretical physicist discuss how the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope will probe the nature of dark matter and dark energy by taking an unprecedentedly enormous scan of the sky.

Spotlight Live: Stellar Explosions and Death Dances

Feb 05, 2014

Norbert Schulz and Nicola Omodei discuss the recent detection of a dying star igniting the most powerful blast ever seen – something so powerful it radiated energy that was 500 million times that of visible light and how scientists have discovered that a familiar sight in the skies is actually our earliest view yet of a star being consumed by the remnant of a nearby exploded star.

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