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Beyond Earthly Skies

The Universe’s Brightest Explosions

8 Mar 2013, 17:51 UTC
The Universe’s Brightest Explosions
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Supernovae (plural of supernova) are the most luminous stellar explosions in the universe. Over a period of several days to several months, a typical supernova can produce as much energy as the Sun emits during its entire multi-billion year life span. A supernova can be created either by runaway nuclear fusion in a white dwarf star or by the sudden gravitational collapse of the core of a massive star. There is a rare type of supernova known as a pair-instability supernova and such a supernova can blaze up to around 100 times more luminous than a typical supernova. This makes pair-instability supernovae the brightest stellar explosions known in the universe.Pair-instability supernovae only happen for very massive stars (140 to 260 solar mass) that have a very low abundance of elements heavier than hydrogen and helium. The low abundance of heavier elements reduces mass loss and keeps these stars sufficiently massive to eventually explode as pair-instability supernovae. Pair instability occurs when the thermal energy in the core of a massive star becomes large enough to produce electron-positron pairs. This process reduces radiation pressure that supports the star and causes the star to contract. The situation rapidly runs out of control as ...

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