What We Learn from Supernovae
British pop band Oasis' hit song "Champagne Supernova" is now fodder for retro radio stations -- or the occasional ringtone. But when it was first released in 1995, it burned up the charts, going on to sell 3.9 million copies [source: Gundersen].
Even with such a record of success, "Champagne Supernova" pales in comparison to actual supernova SNLS-03C3bb. Astronomers discovered the supernova in 2006 and promptly nicknamed it the "champagne" supernova because it rocked their expectations (and what better way to celebrate than with a little Britpop?). The supernova equaled 2 solar masses before it exploded. This far exceeded the 1.4 solar masses -- the Chandrekhar limit -- that astronomers would have expected [source: CBC, Jeffery].
So why celebrate the spotting of a really, really gigantic star's death? Not only was SNLS-03C3bb a game-changer, but understanding how different stars die allows scientists to predict how future supernovae will impact the rest of the universe.
Type Ia supernovae completely destroy the core of a star, but the other three types leave a super-dense core behind. When a Type Ib, Type Ic or Type II supernova results from a star with an inner core of less than 3 solar masses, it creates a neutron star with a core about as dense as an atom's nucleus and a powerful magnetic field. If its magnetic field creates lighthouse-style beams of radiation that flash toward Earth as the star rotates, it's called a pulsar.
When a star with a core equal to 3 solar masses or more explodes, the aftermath of its explosion can result in a black hole. Scientists hypothesize that black holes form when gravity causes a star's compressed inner core to continually sink into itself. A black hole has such a powerful gravitational force that it can drag surrounding matter -- even planets, stars and light itself -- into its maw [source: NASA]. You can learn more about them in How Black Holes Work.
All of their powers of destruction aside, a lot of good can come of a supernova. By tracking the demise of particular stars, scientists have uncovered ancient astronomical events and predicted future changes in the universe [source: NASA]. And by using Type Ia supernovae as standard candles, researchers have been able to map entire galaxies' distances from us and determine that the universe is expanding ever more rapidly [source: Cal Tech].
But stars leave more than an electromagnetic signature behind. When a star explodes, it produces cosmic debris and dust [source: NASA]. Type Ia supernovae are thought to be responsible for the large amount of iron in the universe. And all of the elements in the universe that are heavier than iron, from cobalt to roentgenium, are thought to be created during core collapse supernovae explosions. After millions of years, these remnants comingle with space gas to form new interstellar life: Baby stars that mature, age and may eventually complete the circle of life by becoming supernovae themselves.
- Atkinson, Nancy. "A Supernova Story." UniverseToday.com. March 3, 2011. (Sept. 16, 2011) http://www.universetoday.com/26495/a-supernova-story/
- Atkinson, Nancy. "Merging White Dwarfs Set Off Supernovae." UniverseToday.com. Feb. 17, 2010. (Sept. 16, 2011) http://www.universetoday.com/56461/merging-white-dwarfs-set-off-supernovae/
- Beck, Julie. "A Supernova Fades Gloriously into a Supernova Remnant." Popular Science. Sept. 12, 2011. http://www.popsci.com/science/article/2011-09/astronomers-witness-supernovas-unprecedented-transition-supernova-remnant
- Cain, Fraser. "Solar Mass." UniverseToday.com. Dec. 14, 2009. (Sept. 16, 2011) http://www.universetoday.com/47600/solar-mass/
- California Institute of Technology. "'Champagne Supernova' Challenges Ideas about How Supernova Work." Sept. 20, 2006. (Sept. 17, 2011) http://media.caltech.edu/press_releases/12894
- Carter, Lynn. "Will the Sun go Supernova in Six Years and Destroy Earth?" Cornell University. (Sept. 16, 2011) http://curious.astro.cornell.edu/question.php?number=285
- CBC News. "'Champagne Supernova' Breaks Astronomical Rules." Sept. 21, 2006. (Sept. 17, 2011) http://www.cbc.ca/news/story/2006/09/21/supernova.html
- Chandra X-ray Observatory. "Cassiopeia A: NASA'S Chandra Finds Superfluid in Neutron Star's Core." Feb. 13, 2011. (Sept. 28, 2011) http://chandra.harvard.edu/photo/2011/casa/
- Chandra X-ray Observatory. "G292.0+1.8 & Kepler's Supernova Remnant: Supernova Explosions Stay In Shape." Dec. 17, 2009. (Sept. 28, 2011) http://chandra.harvard.edu/photo/2009/typingsnrs/
- Chandra X-ray Observatory. "Tycho's Supernova Remnant: Exploding Stars and Stripes." March 24, 2011. (Sept. 28, 2011) http://chandra.harvard.edu/photo/2011/tycho/
- Gary, Dale E. "Astronomy Lecture Number 20." NJIT. (Sept. 28, 2011) http://web.njit.edu/~gary/202/Lecture20.html
- Goddard Space Flight Center. "Supernovae." NASA. (Sept. 16, 2011) http://imagine.gsfc.nasa.gov/docs/science/know_l2/supernovae.html
- Gunderson, Edna. "Is Oasis about to 'Dig Out' Another Breakthrough?" Oct. 7, 2008. (Sept. 16, 2011) USA Today. http://www.usatoday.com/life/music/news/2008-10-06-oasis-profile_N.htm
- Jeffery, David. "On SN 2003fg: The Probable Super-Chandrasekhar-Mass SN 1a." Oct. 12, 2006. (Sept. 16, 2011) Cornell University. http://arxiv.org/abs/astro-ph/0609804
- Harvard University. "Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar: The Man Behind the Name." (Sept. 17, 2011) http://chandra.harvard.edu/about/chandra.html
- Haynes, Martha. "The Historical Records of Supernovae." Cornell University. (Sept. 26, 2011) http://www.astro.cornell.edu/academics/courses/astro201/sn_history.htm
- Herant, Marc, et al. "Neutrinos and Supernovae." Los Alamos Science. Vol. 25. Page 64. 1997.
- HubbleSite.org. "What is a Supernova, and What Can it Tell us About the Universe?" (Sept. 16, 2011) http://hubblesite.org/reference_desk/faq/answer.php.id=30&cat=stars
- IAU Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams. "How to Report a Discovery." (Sept. 16, 2011) http://www.cbat.eps.harvard.edu/HowToReportDiscovery.html
- Keohane, Jonathon. "How are Supernovae Detected and How Can I Find Out When the Last One Occurred?" NASA. Feb. 23, 1998. (Sept. 16, 2011) http://imagine.gsfc.nasa.gov/docs/ask_astro/answers/980223c.html
- Lemonick, Michael. "The Supernova's Secrets Cracked at Last?" Time Magazine. Sept. 24, 2010. (Sept. 16, 2011) http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,2021122,00.html
- Marschall, Laurence A. "The Supernova Story." Princeton University Press. 1988. http://books.google.com/books?id=eiHBzw-6lTkC&dq
- Miller, Cole. "Lecture 20." University of Maryland Department of Astronomy. (Sept. 28, 2011) http://www.astro.umd.edu/~miller/teaching/astr498/lecture20.pdf
- Minkel, JR. "Ultraviolet Glow Betrays Impending Supernova." Scientific American. June 12, 2008. (Sept. 22, 2011) http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=ultraviolet-glow-betrays-impending-supernova
- Murdin, Paul, Murdin, Leslie. "Supernovae." Cambridge University Press. 1985. http://books.google.com/books?id=2zTnw4fR17YC&dq
- NASA.gov. "Chandra Uncovers Youngest Supernova in Galaxy." May 14, 2008. (Sept. 16, 2011) http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/chandra/news/08-062.html
- NASA.gov. "Stars." (Sept. 17, 2011) http://science.nasa.gov/astrophysics/focus-areas/how-do-stars-form-and-evolve/
- NASA.gov. "Supernovae." (Sept. 16, 2011) http://imagine.gsfc.nasa.gov/docs/science/know_l2/supernovae.html
- Nave, Carl R. "Supernova." HyperPhysics. (Sept. 28, 2011) http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/hbase/astro/snovcn.html
- Odenwald, Sten. "How Do Supernova Happen in the Universe?" Astronomy Café. (Sept. 16, 2011) http://www.astronomycafe.net/qadir/q2574.html
- Perlman, David. "Supernova to be Visible for up to 2 Weeks." San Francisco Chronicle. Sept. 8, 2011. http://articles.sfgate.com/2011-09-08/news/30125955_1_supernovas-alex-filippenko-type-1a
- Ryden, Barbara. "Lecture 20: Supernovae." Ohio State University. Feb. 4, 2003. (Sept. 28, 2011) http://www.astronomy.ohio-state.edu/~ryden/ast162_5/notes20.html
- Silvis, Jeff. "Can You Please Tell Me in Plain Language What a Red Giant is?" NASA. Oct. 16, 1997. (Sept. 16, 2011) http://imagine.gsfc.nasa.gov/docs/ask_astro/answers/971016.html
- Smith, Gene. "Supernovae, Neutron Stars & Pulsars." University of California, San Diego Center for Astrophysics & Space Sciences. April 16, 1999. (Sept. 28, 2011) http://cass.ucsd.edu/archive/public/tutorial/SN.html
- Swinburne University of Technology. "Core-collapse." The SAO Encyclopedia of Astronomy. (Sept. 28, 2011) http://astronomy.swin.edu.au/cosmos/C/Core-collapse
- Thompson, Andrea. "What is a Supernova?" Space.com. May 4, 2009. (Sept. 14, 2011) http://www.space.com/6638-supernova.html
- The Tycho Brahe Museum. "Tycho Brahe: The Scientist." (Sept. 14, 2011) http://www.tychobrahe.com/UK/vetenskap.html
- Van Dyk, Schuyler D. "What Are Supernovae?" IPAC/Caltech. (Sept. 28, 2011) http://spider.ipac.caltech.edu/staff/vandyk/supernova.html
- Venton, Danielle. "Help Astronomers Study a Newly Discovered Supernova." Wired. Sept. 10, 2011. http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2011/09/observing-supernova-2011fe/
- Vincent, Donovan. "10-year-old Canadian Youngest Ever to Discover Supernova." The Toronto Star. Jan. 4, 2011. (Sept. 16, 2011) http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/article/915453
- Zielinski, Sarah. "The First Supernova." Smithsonian Magazine. Sept. 6, 2011. http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/science/2011/09/the-first-supernova/