These Are The 6 Different Ways To Make A Supernova
“Yet, if you cross a certain mass threshold, you overcome that quantum barrier, and that triggers a runaway fusion reaction, destroying the white dwarfs and leading to a different class of supernova: a thermal runaway supernova.
So, we’ve got core collapse supernovae and thermal runaway supernovae. Does that mean that there are only two classes?
Hardly. There’s more than one way to make both a thermal runaway and a core collapse supernova, and each mechanism or method has properties that are wholly unique to it. Here are the six ways to make a supernova, starting with the least-massive trigger and going up from there.”
So, you’ve got a star, and you want to trigger a supernova with it? Great! Every star that ever gets made in the Universe has the possibility of going supernova. If your star is born with more than about 8 solar masses, it’s practically an inevitability that a supernova will ensue, and that it will be a core-collapse supernova at that. But there are four independent ways to make that happen, and only one of them is the conventional way you probably think about it. If your star has less than 8 solar masses, though, it ends its life in a white dwarf, but that’s not necessarily the end. White dwarfs can gain enough mass, through two different known mechanisms, to someday go supernova as well.
There are six different ways to make a supernova, and each one is spectacular. Which one is your favorite?
How A Failed Nuclear Experiment Accidentally Gave Birth To Neutrino Astronomy
“The scientific importance of this result cannot be overstated. It marked the birth of neutrino astronomy, just as the first direct detection of gravitational waves from merging black holes marked the birth of gravitational wave astronomy. It was the birth of multi-messenger astronomy, marking the first time that the same object had been observed in both electromagnetic radiation (light) and via another method (neutrinos).
It showed us the potential of using large, underground tanks to detect cosmic events. And it causes us to hope that, someday, we might make the ultimate observation: an event where light, neutrinos, and gravitational waves all come together to teach us all about the workings of the objects in our Universe.”
When you build an experiment to look for an effect you’ve never seen before, it’s an extremely risky endeavor. If what you’re expecting to find is actually there, the payoff is tremendous: like the LHC finding the Higgs. If there’s nothing to find, like the direct detection searches for WIMP dark matter, the null result can be viewed as a colossal (and expensive) failure. One such failure was the construction of an enormous, 3,000+ ton detector facility to look for proton decays. The proton, as you may have heard, is stable, so in that regard, the experiments looking for decays were wildly unsuccessful. But that same setup is extremely sensitive to neutrinos, and in 1987, we used a nucleon decay experiment to successfully find the first neutrinos from beyond the Milky Way!
Come get the story of KamiokaNDE, and learn how it went from being an unsuccessful nucleon decay experiment to the birth of multi-messenger astronomy!
The 7 Most Powerful Fireworks Shows In The Universe
“Forget mere chemical reactions; in space, matter-energy conversion creates unprecedentedly powerful explosive events.
Here are the 7 most powerful natural displays of cosmic fireworks.
7.) Type Ia supernova: when two white dwarf stars collide, they initiate a runaway fusion reaction, destroying both stellar remnants.”
Throughout the Universe, there are many beautiful displays of cosmic fireworks. Stars are born; galaxies collide; gas gets heated and expelled; stars and stellar remnants explode and die. We typically think of supernova events as the culmination of the brightest, most energetic things that can happen in the cosmos. But supernovae only fill up the bottom rungs on the list of the most powerful, natural fireworks shows that the Universe provides us with.
Which ones are the most energetic? Find out on this incredible start to your pre-4th-of-July Monday!
How Do The Most Massive Stars Die: Supernova, Hypernova, Or Direct Collapse?
“When we see a very massive star, it’s tempting to assume it will go supernova, and a black hole or neutron star will remain. But in reality, there are two other possible outcomes that have been observed, and happen quite often on a cosmic scale. Scientists are still working to understand when each of these events occurs and under what conditions, but they all happen. The next time you look at a star that’s many times the size and mass of our Sun, don’t think “supernova” as a foregone conclusion. There’s a lot of life left in these objects, and a lot of possibilities for their demise, too. We know our observable Universe started with a bang. For the most massive stars, we still aren’t certain whether they end with the ultimate bang, destroying themselves entirely, or the ultimate whimper, collapsing entirely into a gravitational abyss of nothingness.”
How do stars die? If you’re low in mass, you’ll burn through all your fuel and just contract down. If you’re mid-ranged, like our Sun, you’ll become a giant, blow off your outer layers, and then the remaining core will contract to a white dwarf. And the high-mass stars can take an even more spectacular path: going supernova to produce either a neutron star or a black hole at their core. But that’s not all a high-mass star can do. We’ve seen supernova impostors, hypernovae that are even more luminous than the brightest supernova, and direct collapse black holes, where no explosion or even ejecta exists from a star that used to be present and massive. The science behind them in incredible, and while there are still uncertainties in predicting a star’s fate, we’re learning more all the time.
Come get the fascinating physics behind how the most massive stars die. You might think “supernova” every time, but the Universe is far more intricate and complex than that!
Unfortunately observations made by the Spritzer telescope in 2007 indicate that “the pillars of creation” were destroyed in a supernova about 6000 years ago; but the light from the new nebula won’t reach us for approximately 1000 years.
The Pillars Of Creation Haven’t Been Destroyed, After All
“Moreover, the best evidence for changes comes at the base of the pillars, indicating an evaporation time on the order of between 100,000 and 1,000,000 years. The idea that the pillars have already been destroyed has been demonstrated not to be true. It’s one of the great hopes of science that any controversial claims will be laid to rest by more and better data, and this is one situation where that has paid off in spades. Not only has there not been a supernova that’s in the process of destroying the pillars, but the pillars themselves should be robust for a long time to come.”
In 1995, NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope observed the Eagle Nebula, identifying the now-iconic pillars of creation, where newborn stars are forming inside a gas-rich, dusty region of space. Outside of those pillars, thousands of stars shine brightly, working to boil the gas off, while inside, the radiation from newly-formed stars works to boil it away from the inside. In 2007, the Spitzer Space Telescope, observing in the infrared, suggested that these pillars were blown apart thousands of years ago by a supernova, and that the light hadn’t simply reached our eyes yet. This was controversial, however, and follow-up observations would be required to know for certain. Well, the data has come in, and guess what?
The pillars of creation haven’t been destroyed after all, as the supernova seems to never have occurred. Instead of ~1,000 years, we should have hundreds of thousands of years before the pillars disappear completely. Come get the full story.
The Earliest Galaxies Spin Just Like Our Milky Way, Defying Expectations
“As our data sets improve, we should begin to measure the internal motions of large numbers of galaxies like this, which will answer many questions and raise others. Do most/all galaxies at these early stages rotate in a whirlpool-like plane? Is there a variety and multiple sets of populations that exhibit different behaviors? What are the actual effects of gas infall, supernovae, and small-scale motions? What is the velocity profile of these rotation curves, and can they teach us anything about the interplay of radiation, normal matter, and dark matter?
While we hope to learn these answers, we can now ask these questions sensibly in the aftermath of having measured the movement and internal motions of a galaxy so far away. At least for the first two, they rotate very similarly to their much older cousins, a quite unexpected result. Thanks to ALMA, we’re taking those coveted next steps into the final frontier.”
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. When you form galaxies in the very young Universe, it’s supposed to be a chaotic, turbulent place. Sure, you have gravitation, pulling matter in and creating a pancake-like shape. But then you form stars, and everything goes haywire. Supernovae go off, gas falls in, protogalaxies merge and get swallowed, motions get stirred up, and turbulence should permeate the galaxy. It ought to take billions of years for them to quiet down into a Milky Way-like whirlpool. Well, for the first time, owing to ALMA and Renske Smit’s team, the internal motions of galaxies less than a billion years old were measured, and – surprise! – their movement is smooth and not chaotic at all.
They’re less than a billion years old. And, thanks to ALMA observing them, they might finally pave the way to understand how galaxies form altogether.
Astrophysics Reveals The Origin Of The Human Body
“Owing to NASA’s Chandra X-ray telescope, we can observe how much of each heavy element comes from recent supernova explosions.
When it comes to the human body, the majority of what makes us up comes from supernovae, not any other source.
The biggest find? Every element required to make DNA is found in the aftermath of exploding stars.”
From hydrogen through uranium and beyond, the Universe finds a way to create more than 90 unique elements via natural processes. Dozens of those elements have been found in the human body, many of which are essential to life processes. Yet every element has its own unique cosmic origin story, from the Big Bang to small stars to supernovae to neutron star mergers and more. Using data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray telescope, we’ve measured which elements are produced in supernova explosions, and in what concentrations. Not only have we determined that the overwhelming majority of the human body’s components (73%) are produced in supernovae, but that almost all of our oxygen, by far our most abundant element, is made there. Other processes play a role, but the majority of each of us comes from an exploding, massive star.
Come find out the true, full origin of the elements that made you, a truly cosmic story!
Ask Ethan: Can Normal Stars Make Elements Heavier (And Less Stable) Than Iron?
“Iron has been called stuff like solar fusion ash that collects inside stars, as the last of the elements that fuse w/o consuming more energy than the fusion creates. I have read about the r-process and others that lead to heavier elements in novas and supernovas. My Q is if any elements heavier than iron fuse anyway in normal stars, even if it does consume more energy then it generates.”
When you have a star, perhaps its most defining characteristic is that it fuses lighter elements into heavier ones, releasing energy. While all stars fuse hydrogen into helium, the more massive ones will undergo helium fusion, with the most massive also fusing carbon, oxygen, and eventually silicon, producing iron in the end. By time you get to iron, the most stable element of all, you would lose energy if you fused anything further, so iron’s the end-of-the-road, with a supernova as the next inevitable step. Except, perhaps that picture is a bit oversimplified! Iron isn’t the only thing that gets produced in the silicon-burning phase, and once your star contains iron from previous generations of stars, there are a couple of different processes that can help you build elements very far up the periodic table, without needing to have a supernova or other cataclysmic event at all. When you talk about consuming versus producing energy, that’s a major factor, but arguably isn’t even the most important one when it comes to which elements you produce.
Find out what it’s all about, and how literally half of the heavier-than-iron elements in the Universe are made in stars after all!