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Beyond Earthly Skies

When Supermassive Stars Explode in the Early Universe

1 Oct 2014, 10:00 UTC
When Supermassive Stars Explode in the Early Universe Ken Chen, UC Santa Cruz
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Supermassive stars with ~10,000 to ~100,000 times the Sun’s mass are believed to have formed in the very early universe. These are the first generation of stars in the universe and are entirely comprised of hydrogen and helium. They live very short lives before collapsing directly to form black holes. A team of astrophysicists ran a number of supercomputer simulations and found that some of these supermassive stars die in a rather unusual way. Instead of collapsing to form black holes, supermassive stars in a narrow mass range between 55,000 to 56,000 times the Sun’s mass explode as highly energetic thermonuclear supernovae, leaving nothing behind.This image is a slice through the interior of a supermassive star of 55,500 solar masses along the axis of symmetry. It shows the inner helium core in which nuclear burning is converting helium to oxygen, powering various fluid instabilities (swirling lines). This snapshot shows a moment one day after the onset of the explosion, when the radius of the outer circle would be slightly larger than that of the orbit of the Earth around the Sun. (Credit: Ken Chen, UC Santa Cruz)A supermassive star with 55,500 times the Sun’s mass lives for about 1.69 million ...

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