What Is Supernova?

The major result of a supernova is the massive release of energy. A supernova is an event that occurs when a star uses up all of the fuel that has kept it producing enough light to be visible in some cases. When the star “dies” this large amount of energy is released and the star’s center or core collapses.

Astronomers have discovered that the energy release creates a new object that might be visible, called a pulsar. Observation over many years has shown that this supernova event is not a common occurrence in the Milky Way galaxy, of which our solar system is a tiny part. However, scientists have observed these events in other galaxies. The leftover material from the collapse of a massive star, resulting in a great release of energy, provides much of the evidence that astronomers use to understand this amazing galactic event. Among these remnants, scientists find the rotating beams of X-rays quite fascinating.

Often compared to an explosion in the vast area we call space, a supernova may result in the star’s material appearing much brighter than the star did when it was “alive.” The energy release moves the star’s leftover material at a great speed out into space, with the light sometimes visible without a telescope, often for days or even weeks.

supernovaA star “shines” or produces great light because of the heat from the process of fusing particles in the nucleus. According to one theory this process stops when the star’s mass collapses due to gravity. Another theory states that a smaller star might gather material from nearby stars to the point that the fusion is too much for it to hold together.

Scientists can tell much more about a star and its composition after a supernova because they can study the spectrum of light produce. Certain chemicals produce specific types of light, allowing observers to classify it. For instance, if the astronomer detects hydrogen in the spectrum the supernova is considered a Type II. There are sub-types in Type II as well, depending on the chemical composition.

Studies over the past decades have shown that there are some “benefits” from supernova events. The collapse of stars and the subsequent release of energy move cosmic rays along at a greater rate. In addition, a supernova helps distribute chemicals throughout the galaxy. Research shows that in addition to the light and chemicals obvious to observers, the star remains as a heavy core that scientists believe is made up of only neutrons.

The dying stars not only produce great amounts of light and distribute the remnant chemicals across space they also produce X-rays and gamma rays (thought of as electromagnetic and of very high energy). Scientists have found that gamma rays can cause serious damage to living tissue, as can the overexposure to X-rays.

Observation over a long period of time has shown that when the core, the energy and the remnant chemicals are accounted for after a supernova, there is nothing left over.

Category: Astronomy, Science

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