The Death of a Star

While they might only seem like galactic fireworks, supernovas do a lot more than just generate pretty pictures like this one.

All the elements heavier than oxygen were created by supernovae billions of years ago. When stars burst, they spew out these heavy elements into space, enriching molecular clouds that are the sites of star birth. If not for supernovae, the calcium in our bones or iron in our blood probably wouldn’t exist.

There are two ways that supernova can occur. In one, a white dwarf star accumulates material from a companion star and eventually reaches critical mass. When this happens, a thermonuclear explosion occurs.
In the second, a giant star runs out of nuclear fuel and the outer layers of the star rapidly collapse inwards because of the star’s own gravity. As the layers collapse on the iron core, they bounce back outwards, ripping apart the star.

The Death Of A Star

The Death Of A Star

The above image from the Whirlpool Galazy (M51) appears to be an example of this second type of supernova. It was first reported on June 28 and photographed on June 30. Since then, astronomers believe they have identified the star that produced the supernova. It is rare to find the progenitor stars and this identification will help astronomer learn more about these events.


~ by UTS on May 1, 2009.

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