What is a supernova?

This-Spitzer-false-color-image-is-a-composite-of-data-from-the-Spitzer-Space-Telescope.-This-image-is-a-view-of-Keplers-supernova-remnant-taken-in-X-rays-visible-light-and-infrared-radiation.jpg

This Spitzer false-color image is a composite of data from the Spitzer Space Telescope. This image is a view of Kepler's supernova remnant taken in X-rays, visible light, and infrared radiation. This Spitzer false-color image is a composite of data from the Spitzer Space Telescope. This image is a view of Kepler's supernova remnant taken in X-rays, visible light, and infrared radiation. (Image credit: NASA/JPL)

When a star reaches the end of its life, it explodes in a spectacular explosion of light known as a supernova. Supernovae may outshine whole galaxies for a short period and emit more energy than our sun would in its entire lifespan. They’re also the universe’s principal supplier of heavy materials. Supernovae are “the greatest explosion that occurs in space,” according to NASA.

Before the telescope was constructed in the 17th century, several civilizations observed supernovae. RCW 86, discovered by Chinese astronomers in A.D. 185, is the earliest known supernova. According to NASA’s statistics, this “guest star” lingered in the sky for eight months.

The Crab Nebula, possibly the most well-known supernova, was discovered by Chinese and Korean astronomers in 1054, who noted the stellar explosion in their records. According to rock drawings discovered in Arizona and New Mexico, Native Americans may have witnessed it as well. The Crab Nebula was generated by a supernova that was so brilliant that early astronomers could view it during the day.

Other supernovae seen before the invention of the telescope were in the years 393, 1006, 1181, 1572 (examined by famous astronomer Tycho Brahe), and 1604. In his work “De nova stella,” Brahe described his observations of the “new star,” which gave origin to the term “nova.”

Walter Baade and Fritz Zwicky of Mount Wilson Observatory used the word “supernova” to describe an explosive event they saw in the Andromeda Galaxy known as S Andromedae (also known as S.N. 1885A). According to experts, supernovas are thought to occur when regular stars collapse into neutron stars.

When stars die

supernova,What is a supernova,The Hubble Space Telescope has caught the most detailed view of the Crab Nebula in one of the largest images ever assembled by the space-based observatory. (Image credit: NASA/ESA and Jeff Hester (Arizona State University).)
The Hubble Space Telescope has caught the most detailed view of the Crab Nebula in one of the largest images ever assembled by the space-based observatory. (Image credit: NASA/ESA and Jeff Hester (Arizona State University).)

According to the European Space Agency data, a supernova will occur once every 50 years in a galaxy the size of the Milky Way. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, a star bursts every 10 seconds or so somewhere in the cosmos.

The “Local Bubble,” a 300-light-year long, peanut-shaped bubble of gas in the interstellar medium that surrounds our solar system, was produced around 10 million years ago by a cluster of supernovae.

The mass of a star has a role in how it dies. Our sun, for example, lacks sufficient mass to erupt as a supernova. (However, the news for Earth remains bad: if the sun runs out of nuclear fuel, probably in a few billion years, it will inflate into a red giant that would likely annihilate our planet before gradually cooling into a white dwarf.) On the other hand, a star may burn out in a blazing explosion if it has the correct amount of mass.

There are two methods for a star to go supernova:

Type I supernova: a star collects materials from a neighboring companion until a nuclear reaction goes out of control.

Type II supernova: a star that has run out of nuclear fuel and collapses due to gravity.

Type II supernovae

supernova,What is a supernova,This Chandra X-ray photograph shows Cassiopeia A (Cas A, for short), the youngest supernova remnant in the Milky Way. (Image credit: NASA/CXC/MIT/UMass Amherst/M.D.Stage et al.)
This Chandra X-ray photograph shows Cassiopeia A (Cas A, for short), the youngest supernova remnant in the Milky Way. (Image credit: NASA/CXC/MIT/UMass Amherst/M.D.Stage et al.)

Let’s start with the more interesting Type II. A star must be many times more massive than the sun to explode as a Type II supernova (estimates run from eight to 15 solar masses). It will ultimately run out of hydrogen and helium fuel in its core, much like the sun. It will, however, have sufficient mass and pressure to fuse carbon.

The star then creates onion-like layers of material, with heavier materials building up towards the core and lighter elements building up near the periphery. The star’s core starts to disintegrate once it reaches a certain mass (the Chandrasekhar limit). These Type-II supernovae are also called core-collapse supernovae because of this.

The implosion eventually rebounds back off the core, releasing the star material into space and forming a supernova. The only thing left is a neutron star, a city-sized monster with the sun’s mass packed into a compact area.

Light curves, which explain how the intensity of light varies over time, are used to classify Type II supernova sub-categories. Type II-L supernovae’s light dims progressively following the explosion, but Type II-P supernovae’s brightness remains constant for a longer time before dimming. The signature of hydrogen may be seen in the spectra of both kinds.

Astronomers believe that stars substantially more massive than the sun (about 20 to 30 solar masses) may not explode as a supernova. Rather than collapsing, they generate black holes.

Related: Rogue black hole spotted on its own for the first time.
Related: How to find a black hole?

Type I supernovae

Type I supernovae have no hydrogen signature in their light spectra and are considered to come from a near binary star system of white dwarf stars. As the partner star’s gas accumulates on the white dwarf, the white dwarf becomes more squeezed, ultimately triggering a runaway nuclear reaction inside the white dwarf that results in a violent supernova explosion.

Because all Type Ia supernovae are considered to burn with similar brightness at their peaks, astronomers use them as “standard candles” to estimate cosmic distances.

Type Ib and Ic supernovae undergo core-collapse, like Type II supernovae, although they have lost much of their outer hydrogen layer. In 2014, astronomers discovered a Type Ib supernova’s weak, hard-to-find companion star. The search took two decades because the companion star glowed far fainter than the spectacular supernova.

Watching a supernova

According to recent research, Supernovae vibrate like huge speakers and create an auditory hum before bursting.

For the first time, astronomers captured a supernova in the process of bursting in 2008. Astronomer Alicia Soderberg anticipated witnessing the little shimmering smudge of a month-old supernova while staring at her computer screen. Instead, she and her coworker saw a peculiar five-minute burst of X-rays that was incredibly brilliant.

They were the first astronomers to capture a star in the act of exploding with this discovery. The new supernova was given the designation S.N. 2008D. The supernova exhibited certain unexpected qualities, according to further research.

In a 2008 interview with Space.com, Paolo Mazzali, an Italian astrophysicist at the Padova Observatory and Max-Planck Institute for Astrophysics, said, “Our observations and modeling show this to be a rather unusual event, to be better understood in terms of an object lying at the boundary between normal supernovae and gamma-ray bursts.”

Also Read: how many earths can fit in Jupiter.

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