Universe Guide

Supernovae and their Remnants

A Supernova is what happens to a massive stars come to the end of their lives. The plural of a Supernova is officially Supernovae but you can get away with calling them Supernovas. Once the star has finished burning its fuel, it will die and become either a black hole, a neutron star or a planetary nebula. Which way it ends up depends on the mass of the star.

A star going supernova will create whats known as a Supernova Remnant such as M1 - Crab Nebula in Taurus the Bull and M57 - Ring Nebula in Lyra. The term planetary is a misnomer, there aren't any planets, just a white dwarf/neutron star at the centre and a huge gas cloud surrounding it. They should not be confused with a Nova. A Nova is a sudden cataclysmic explosion in a white dwarf. A Supernova happens before a star becomes a white dwarf. When a star goes supernova, it produces more energy than at any single time in its history. Its brightness will outshine anything nearby.

Types of Supernova

There are a number of types of Supernovae but the main two are known as Type Ia and Type II. As you've probably worked out, there are Type Ib and Ic but they are not as major as the ones mentioned before. The following has been taken from N.A.S.A's page on the subject.

Type 1a Supernova

These result from some binary star systems in which a carbon-oxygen white dwarf is accreting matter from a companion. (What kind of companion star is best suited to produce Type Ia supernovae is hotly debated.) In a popular scenario, so much mass piles up on the white dwarf that its core reaches a critical density of 2 x 109 g/cm3. This is enough to result in an uncontrolled fusion of carbon and oxygen, thus detonating the star.

Type II Supernova

A lot simpler to understand that the Type 1a. The Type II is a solo star which just simply runs out of fuel and blows itself up.

After the supernova, the remnants either become a nebula if the original size was less than five Solar masses or a black hole if the star was a supergiant before it started its way out. When a star has run out, it will loose the energy required to hold itself as a star and grow. When the Sun runs out of energy, it will grow and its outer edge will expand past the Earth. All life on Earth will have disappeared long before the Sun has expanded that big.

There is a theory that the planetary nebula could collapse back on itself and produce another Sun and solar system. The theory is mentioned later, do read on.

Unnova, Failed Supernova

An unnova is a star that is not able to go supernova, instead it collapses and disappears. Whilst the convention for a dying star is to grow into a supergiant and then explode, there is the theory that a star might not be able to cause a supernova. The Unnova is when the star will just collapse into a black hole.

Unnova's are also referred to as Failed Supernovas because they did not explode. Some will tell you that the correct term is Failed Supernova and that Unnova is a lazy term.

When a supernova occurs, it can destroy its solar system but with an Unnova, the orbitting planets can be unaffected. If the Sun was to go Unnova, the planets would survive. The Earth would be in perpetual darkness and overtime, it would get cold. It wouldn't be cold immediately because of the heat from the iron core but over time, it'll get cold. Life on the surface would eventually die and any humans would have to move off the planet or live underground where they'd be able to create warmth and live.

What is the brightest Supernova?

The current record holder of the brightest supernova goes to one imaginatively named SN 2006gy, It is located in the constellation of Perseus. It was probably caused by the death of a star that was had at least 150 solar masses. 150 Solar Masses is how big a star is theoretically able to get. N.A.S.A.

The supernova is located some 238 Million Light Years away from the Earth in the galaxy NGC 1260. Although it was bright, it couldn't be seen unaided from the Earth. The star exploded millions of years ago but we are only seeing it now because of time it takes for light to travel over such a vast distance.

Scientists think that the supernova might be a different type of supernova compared to the types that we know of today.

Pulsars and Neutron Stars

When a star goes supernova, it can produce a nebula with a Neutron star at the centre of it. It won't actually be a planetary nebula as planetary nebula contain white dwarf stars rater than a neutron star. A neutron star is a star that is made predominantly of neutrons which are particles that have zero electrical charge and are ever so slightly bigger than a proton.

A neutron star can spin round firing off gamma rays and thus be known as a pulsar. Pulsars were first believed to be a signal from an alien race on a far off planet but scientists downgraded their excitement to what they are now.

Death of a Star, Birth of Life

It is said that a star will use up all its hydrogen fuel first by turning hydrogen into helium. Once it has used up all its hydrogen, it will then turn helium into Lithium and so and so forth. However, a star will stop once the only fuel it has left is iron which is number 26 (FE) on the Periodic table. The other elements such as Gold, Mercury and Uranium can only be created in the furnace of a supernova.

It is theorized that a star long ago exploded close by and the remnants of the star were captured in our solar system that then became our planets and us. Our matter, the stuff we are made of existed since the beginning of the Big Bang and has been recycled through the ages.

Third Generation Sun

The Sun has sometimes been referred to as a third generation star. The Universe is seen as being 13.8 billion years old, the Sun is a mere 4.5 billion years old. For the first 9.3 billion years of the Universe, there was no Sun, it was just a nebula of dust and gas. The Sun has about another 5 billions years to go, although life only has another 1 billion years left before the Sun becomes too hot to survive and water evaporates away. It is said that before the Sun, there were stars that had been and gone and had been its predecessors. The left overs of the previous stars became materials for the Sun and planet when those earlier stars went supernova.

Uranium, Gold and other heavy elements can only be created by the heat of a supernova explosion which led scientists to believe that that those materials are remnants of a dead star.

When our Sun goes pop in about 5 billion years, it will have expanded to beyond Earth. The outer planets will not be swallowed up by the expanding Sun but they will be changed forever. The outer planets will loose their atmospheres and if they had a rocky interior, it will not be exposed and just be just another asteroid in space.

When the Sun does explode, it'll create some heavy elements which will be blasted into space and form the materials for new planets and stars.

A Supernova threat to the Earth

If an exploding star was within 30 light years of the Earth, it would have devastating consequences for the Earth. The Gamma Ray burst that gets fired out when the explosion occurs will when it arrives here blow away our atmosphere and scorch the planet. A safe distance from a supernova has been calculated at being about 50-100 light years at which point the Gamma Ray bursts would have dissipated. The most likely star to go off is Betelgeuse in Orion and that is over 400 light years away, more than safe. That is the nearest star to our Solar System that could go pop any time soon. If the star did go pop, we would have to be in the line of fire when the bursts arrive as well. It is estimated that Betelgeuse will go pop in the next 100,000 years, a long time yet.

It has been calculated that a star goes supernova once every 100 years per galaxy. Taking into account the number of stars and the number of galaxies out there, we've actually not got anything to worry about at the moment. When the Sun goes supernova, our planet would have been long destroyed as the Sun would have melted it away. One of the reason people give why we've not had any contact with advanced civilisations is because they could have been killed by a supernova explosion.

Zombie Star

A zombie star is a hypothetical result of a supernova explosion that instead of dispersing its stellar matter, it leaves behind a remnant star. A remnant star is like an ordinary star in that it continues as normal. They are thought to be the results of a Type 1ax explosion that is similar to a Type I but the main difference is that the supernova has a lower ejection velocity and lower luminosity. 2. The picture below is of a supernova star system linked to potential Zombie Star in the galaxy NGC 1309 in the constellation of Eridanus. More information on this can be found at N.A.S.A..

Potential Zombie Star discovered in the Galaxy NGC 1301 in constellation of Eridanus.

White and Black Dwarfs

After the supernova explosion, a white dwarf can be the remnants of the Star. It will glow and glow for millions and billions of years. It will continue to glow until its fuel has run out but it won't supernova again. The White Dwarf will simply fade into a black dwarf then over more time, the star will dissipate into nothing. The Universe is too young for any of these black dwarfs to exist and only hypothetical grounded in science.

M1 - Crab Nebula Supernova Remnant

M1 - Crab Nebula

Despite its name, it is not classed as being part of the Cancer constellation, however it is in the nearby constellation of Taurus. It is believed to have been first recorded as a supernova in 1054 by Chinese astronomers of that time. At the centre of the Nebula is a Neutron Star that 28-30 km across which rotates about 30 times a second.

M1 - Crab Nebula 0 Supernova Remnant

M57 - Ring Nebula

The Ring Nebula is a supernova remnant that can be seen in the northern constellation of Lyra. It was first discovered in 1779 by French Astronomer Antoine Darquier de Pellepoix but was first catalogued by Charles Messier who compiled the Messier Catalog.

SN 1885ASupernova RemnantAndromeda
SN 1986JSupernova RemnantAndromeda
SN W49bSupernova RemnantAquila
SN 1937CSupernova RemnantCanes Venatici
SN 1572Supernova RemnantCassiopeia
SN 1181Supernova RemnantCassiopeia
SN 1572ASupernova RemnantCassiopeia
Lupus SNSupernova RemnantCentaurus
SN 1006Supernova RemnantCentaurus
SN 1895BSupernova RemnantCentaurus
SN 1972ESupernova RemnantCentaurus
Veil NebulaSupernova RemnantCygnus
DEM L241Supernova RemnantDorado
DEM L71Supernova RemnantDorado
NGC2060Supernova RemnantDorado
SN1987aSupernova RemnantDorado
SN 1987ASupernova RemnantDorado
Jellyfish Nebula (IC443)Supernova RemnantGemini
IC 443Supernova RemnantGemini
SN 1983NSupernova RemnantHydra
Asassn-15lhSupernova RemnantIndus
SN 2008DSupernova RemnantLynx
Ring Nebula (M57, NGC6720)Supernova RemnantLyra
RCW 103Supernova RemnantNorma
Kepler SNRSupernova RemnantOphiuchus
SN 1604Supernova RemnantOphiuchus
SN 1961VSupernova RemnantPerseus
SN 2005GLSupernova RemnantPisces
Lobster Nebula (NGC6357)Supernova RemnantScorpius
Crab Nebula (M1, NGC1952)Supernova RemnantTaurus
SN 1054Supernova RemnantTaurus
SN 1993JSupernova RemnantUrsa Major
SN 2011FESupernova RemnantUrsa Major
Pencil NebulaSupernova RemnantVela
SN 1994DSupernova RemnantVirgo
SN 2007BISupernova RemnantVirgo

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