The Life and Death of Supernovae

The Life and Death of Supernovae

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Everything in the world dies, even stars. A supernova occurs when a star “dies.” A supernova is the explosion of a star. These explosions release huge amounts of energy, an amount equivalent to a few octillion nuclear warheads, or one million tons of TNT. One supernova will radiate more energy that our son will its entire lifetime. Supernovae play a huge part in the galaxy by being a primary source of heavy elements in the universe Throughout a large stars life, they create heavy elements within their core. When one of these stars star explodes, it releases the heavy elements into the galaxy. The elements then disperse and move on to create new stars and the cycle continues anew.
Supernovae occur when a star can no longer resist the force of gravity and collapse. There are two types of supernovae. Type II supernovae have hydrogen absorption lines in their light spectrum. Type II supernovae occur in stars with masses much greater than our sun. They are an implosion-explosion event. During fusion, outward pressure is created to balance the inward pull of gravity. However once the star runs out of fuel, the star will expand into a red supergiant. While the star is still a red supergiant, the core become hotter and denser. During this time more nuclear reactions occur, delaying the collapse of the core. However once the core is out of fuel this time, it has nothing left to fuse and the core collapses. The implosions, or collapse, of the iron cores of massive stars are caused from extreme pressure. When the core collapses, the core will rise to over 100 billion degrees. The energy from the iron crushing together will be overcome by gravity at first, but will bounce back through the layers of the star. When it reached the hydrogen envelope of the star, it explodes and a shock wave occurs. Many heavy elements are released by the explosion and are dispersed throughout the galaxy to form new stars
Type I supernovae, lack hydrogen in their line spectra. These types of supernovae exhibit a sharp maxima in their light curves, then gradually dies away. There are three subclasses of type I, Ia, Ib, and Ic. In type Ia, the white dwarf star has a companion star in a binary system. The stars must be close enough where the red giant’s material may flow into the white dwarf.

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Once the white dwarf reaches a mass known as the Chandrasekhar limit, the maximum mass of a stable white dwarf star, the pressure at the star’s core will exceed its limit. Exceeding the Chandrasekhar limit (approximately 1.44 solar) will cause a runaway nuclear reaction, carbon and oxygen will fuse creating enough energy to cause a supernova explosion on the surface of the star, an explosion about 1044 joules. The end result is usually nothing but the elements from the white dwarf and those created in the supernova blast. Type Ia supernovae do not give off hydrogen or helium lines because white dwarf stars contain neither, any would have been fused with carbon and oxygen due to the high densities and temperatures. Their line spectra are usually full of silicon lines, since it is a product of fusion. The main product of Type Ia supernovae is iron since it is the main product of fusion. Approximately 1 Msun is released into the interstellar medium every Type Ia, making iron very common.
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