“Without these supernova explosions, there are no mist-covered swamps, computer chips, trilobites, Mozart or the tears of a little girl. Without exploding stars, perhaps there could be a heaven, but there is certainly no Earth.” -Clifford A. Pickover
One of the most sobering cosmic truths is that every star in the Universe will someday run out of fuel and die. Once its core fuel is exhausted, all it can do is contract under its own gravitational pull, fusing heavier and heavier elements until it can go no further. Only the most massive stars, capable of continuing to fuse carbon (and even heavier elements) will ever create the Universe’s ultimate cataclysmic event: a Type II, or core collapse, supernova.
At peak brightness, a supernova can shine nearly as brightly as the rest of the stars in a galaxy combined. This 1994 image shows a typical example of a core-collapse supernova relative to its host galaxy. Image credit: NASA/ESA, The Hubble Key Project Team and The High-Z Supernova Search Team.
Stars that are fusing carbon (and up) appear to us today as red supergiants, and the brightest red supergiant as seen from Earth is Betelgeuse. Sometime in the next 100,000 years or ...