Student Features

Text Size

A Supernova Can Really Blow
10.07.04
 
Animation of a supernova
Image above: A supernova blows up in space. Credit: NASA
What was that bright light in space? It may have been a supernova.

A supernova is a star at the end of its "life." It goes out with a bang! What kind of star becomes a supernova? Only a very big star with a lot of mass can turn into a supernova. Mass is how much matter there is in an object. A star that is at least five times bigger than our Sun can become a supernova.

The cycle of stars shows a cloud for a nebula, a small main sequence yellow star, a larger red giant, below the red giant is a small white dwarf, then a small black dwarf, to the right and below the red giant is a big bright yellow supernova which points to a small black hole and a small neutron star
Image above: After becoming a red giant, a small star will become a white dwarf and a large star will become a supernova. Credit: NASA





The Life of a Large Star

Stars are not living things. But, they have life cycles. They go through stages. These are the stages of a star with a lot of mass.
 

 
Nebula
A star is born out of a cloud of gases and dust.
The crab nebula
Main Sequence Star
Next, it is a "baby" protostar. A star later becomes a main sequence star. Most of the star's life is in this stage.
Different colored stars in the space
Red Giant
After billions of years, the star will become a red giant. The outer layer of the star gets bigger. But it shrinks on the inside. Now, the star is called a red giant.
Red giant star looks like a bright red ball
Supernova
Inside, the star gets hotter and thicker. There is iron inside. The iron soaks up the star's energy. Finally, it lets go of the energy. This is the death of the star. It ends when the star blows up. This explosion is what we call a supernova. It can light up the sky for weeks. It can get very, very hot.
Supernova blew up, leaving rings in space
Neutron Stars
After a star blows up, there are leftovers. The leftovers can be very heavy. The inside core that is left over is called a neutron star.
A very small neutron star with a gas cloud
Black Holes
If the star was more than eight times bigger than our Sun, the leftovers will be a black hole. A black hole is the end of a very large star. It has a lot of strong gravity. A black hole does not give off light, so we cannot see them. We know that black holes are out there by using X rays.
A black hole
 

What About Our Sun?

Will our Sun turn into a supernova? Will it become a black hole? No, our Sun is too small. It will one day become a red giant, but that will be billions of years from now. Look at the picture of the life cycle of stars above. What will happen to our Sun?

 
 
Adapted from Stars and Supernovae