Scientists Say: Supernova | Science News for Students

Scientists Say: Supernova

This is what happens when a star explodes
May 15, 2017 — 6:50 am EST
g11 supernova

These wild colors are the remains of a supernova named G11.2-0.3.

X-ray: NASA/CXC/NCSU/K. Borkowski et al; Optical: DSS

Supernova (noun, “SOO-per-no-va”)

This what happens when a star blows up. From the Earth, a supernova looks like a star that has suddenly become extremely bright. That increase in brightness occurs because the star has exploded and thrust most of its mass into space.

Supernovas come in two types. The first occurs in a binary system — where two stars orbit a point between them. One star may steal mass from the other. When it steals too much, it can explode into a supernova.

The other type of supernova happens when a single star runs out of fuel. As it does, its mass concentrates in its core. When there’s too much mass in the middle, the star will explode. 

In a sentence

This star was caught burping out clouds of gas before it became a supernova.

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Power Words

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binary star            A system of two stars in which one revolves around the other, or they both revolve around a common center.

cloud     A plume of molecules or particles, such as water droplets, that move under the action of an outside force, such as wind, radiation or water currents. (in atmospheric science) A mass of airborne water droplets and ice crystals that travel as a plume, usually high in Earth’s atmosphere. Its movement is driven by winds. (in computing) A network of computers (hardware), known as servers, that are connected to the internet. They can be used to store data and computer programs (software) that can be accessed by one or many people at once, and from anywhere in the world.

core     Something — usually round-shaped — in the center of an object. (in geology) Earth’s innermost layer. Or, a long, tube-like sample drilled down into ice, soil or rock. Cores allow scientists to examine layers of sediment, dissolved chemicals, rock and fossils to see how the environment at one location changed through hundreds to thousands of years or more.

fuel     Any material that will release energy during a controlled chemical or nuclear reaction. Fossil fuels (coal, natural gas and petroleum) are a common type that liberate their energy through chemical reactions that take place when heated (usually to the point of burning).

mass     A number that shows how much an object resists speeding up and slowing down — basically a measure of how much matter that object is made from.

orbit     The curved path of a celestial object or spacecraft around a star, planet or moon. One complete circuit around a celestial body.

star     The basic building block from which galaxies are made. Stars develop when gravity compacts clouds of gas. When they become dense enough to sustain nuclear-fusion reactions, stars will emit light and sometimes other forms of electromagnetic radiation. The sun is our closest star.

supernova     (plural: supernovae or supernovas) A massive star that suddenly increases greatly in brightness because of a catastrophic explosion that ejects most of its mass.