Supernova

animation of supernova explosion

One of the most energetic explosive events known is a supernova. These occur at the end of a star's lifetime, when its nuclear fuel is exhausted and it is no longer supported by the release of nuclear energy. If the star is particularly massive, then its core will collapse and in so doing will release a huge amount of energy. This will cause a blast wave that ejects the star's envelope into interstellar space. The result of the collapse may be, in some cases, a rapidly rotating neutron star that can be observed many years later as a radio pulsar.

While many supernovae have been seen in nearby galaxies, they are relatively rare events in our own galaxy. The last to be seen was Kepler's star in 1604. This remnant has been studied by many X-ray astronomy satellites, including ROSAT. There are, however, many remnants of Supernovae explosions in our galaxy, that are seen as X-ray shell like structures caused by the shock wave propagating out into the interstellar medium. Another famous remnant is the Crab Nebula which exploded in 1054. In this case a pulsar is seen which rotates 30 times a second and emits a rotating beam of X-rays (like a lighthouse). Another dramatic supernova remnant is the Cygnus Loop.

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Last modified: Thursday, 26-Jun-2003 13:48:43 EDT