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At a Glance: Types of Supernova

A supernova is the catastrophic destruction of a star. But stellar disaster can come to pass in more ways than one.


Produced by the Space Telescope Science Institute’s Office of Public Outreach.
All images, illustrations, and videos courtesy of NASA, ESA, and STScI except:
·       Night sky imagery created with Stellarium
·       Images of supernova in the Pinwheel Galaxy (SN 2011fe) courtesy of Peter Nugent and the Palomar Transient Factory, Thunderf00t (Wikipedia), and BJ Fulton/LCOGT
·       Type Ia supernova animation courtesy of ESO/M. Kornmesser
·       Taurus constellation drawing from Firmamentum Sobiescianum sive Uranographia by Johannes Hevelius, courtesy of the United States Naval Observatory
·       Black-and-white Crab Nebula image: Bill Schoening/NOAO/AURA/NSF
·       Drawing of the Crab Nebula by William Parsons, the Third Earl of Rosse
Written by Vanessa Thomas
Designed by John Godfrey


Text, At a glance. There's more than one way to destroy a star. A gray bar appears across the top of the screen. The left side of the bar contains the words massive star and the right side of the bar contains the words white dwarf.
A small, glowing dot appears in space and starts tp grow in size. The dot then explodes into a ball of light. Text, A supernova is the catastrophic destruction of a star.
But stellar disaster can come to pass in more ways than one. The side of the bar that contains the text massive star turns yellow. A yellow text box appears with the text, A star's life hangs in the balance of two opposing forces: the inward force of gravity versus the outward pressure created by the generation of nuclear energy in its core. A yellow circle contains a glowing core. Arrows point out from the core while arrows along the edge point toward the core.
Text, When a massive star runs out of nuclear fuel, gravity takes over, and the star's core collapses. The yellow circle fades into the darkness. Red and blue clouds radiate out from a glowing dot in space.
Text, The collapse triggers a powerful shock wave that rips through the rest of the star, blowing it to smithereens. The star's collapsed core remains, either as a dense ball of neutrons, or if the star was exceptionally massive, a black hole. A round sphere rotates as it glows brightly. Title, Neutron Star. The neutron star rotates as it travels through space. It gets smaller and smaller the further away it travels.
Text, But not all stellar explosions happen this way. The yellow text box moves to the left-hand side of the screen. The right side of the bar titled white dwarf turns yellow.
In another type of supernova, merged corpses of dead sun-like stars explode. A swirl of different color reds surround a white center. Two glowing balls of light rotate side by side in space.
Text, The pair of stellar zombies, called white dwarfs, orbit closer together until they merge to become a single, more massive white dwarf. The merger triggers a rapid and destructive chain of nuclear reactions. The two glowing balls of light begin to rotate closer and closer together.
Text, The new white dwarf explodes, completely annihilating itself. The balls of light continue to rotate closer and closer until they attach and begin to rotate together for a brief moment. A huge burst of light explodes from the collision of the balls of light.