When a star like the Sun dies, it casts its outer layers into space, leaving its hot, dense core to […]
A nova is an explosion from the surface of a white-dwarf star in a binary star system. A nova occurs when the white dwarf, which is the dense core of a once-normal star, “steals” gas from its nearby companion star. When enough gas builts up on the surface of the white dwarf it triggers an explosion. For a brief time, the system can shine up to a million times brighter than normal. As long as it continues to take gas from its companion star, the white dwarf can produce nova outbursts at regular intervals. A supernova is a violent stellar explosion that can shine as brightly as an entire galaxy of billions of normal stars. Astronomers divide supernovae into two groups: Type I and Type II. Type I supernovae most likely form as a white dwarf “steals” hot gas from a companion star. If enough gas piles up on the surface of the white dwarf, a runaway thermonuclear explosion blasts the star to bits, leaving nothing behind. These are the brightest supernovae, and can be used to measure the distances to other galaxies. Type II supernovae are the final stage in the evolution of stars that are at least eight times as massive as the Sun. Such a star reaches a point where it can no longer produce nuclear energy in its core. Without the outward pressure created by this energy, gravity wins out and causes the star’s core to collapse to form a neutron star or black hole. The star’s outer layers “rebound” violently, blasting into space at several percent of the speed of light.