Supernovas - What is a supernova?
Welcome to Quatr.us Study Guides!

Supernovas

Supernova
Supernova from space
(thanks to NASA and the Hubble Telescope)

Supernovas are exploding stars. Red giant stars explode when they have used up their hydrogen and helium fuel, and converted most of their atoms to iron atoms.

Red giant stars have a lot of gravity pulling them inward. Normally they don't collapse inward because the nuclear fusion going on inside them pushes energy outward and balances the pull of gravity. When the nuclear fusion stops, the force of gravity pulls the star inward. When the inner shell hits the iron core, it makes a huge shock wave and the star explodes.

When a star explodes, it shoots out billions of atoms into space, where they form a huge cloud of dust called a nebula. Other than hydrogen and helium, pretty much all of the atoms that are around today were originally made inside stars and then shot out into space when their star became a supernova. Most of the carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, silicon, and iron that we have on Earth originally came from a supernova explosion. In addition, because the explosions are so hot (hundreds of millions of degrees), new, heavier kinds of elements, like gold and uranium, form within the explosion itself.

The first stars became supernovas about 14 billion years ago, but stars are still becoming supernovas today, whenever they run out of fuel. In 1054 AD, astronomers in China and the Islamic Empire recorded a supernova (they noticed a star so bright you could see it in the daylight). That supernova is now the Crab Nebula. Our own star, the Sun, will never become a supernova because it is not big enough to make enough gravity. Instead, it will become a white dwarf.

When the supernova is over, what you have left is a new nebula and a neutron star, or, if the star was one of the very biggest stars, then sometimes it leaves behind a nebula and a black hole.

More different types of stars

Bibliography and further reading about supernovas:

Or check out this supernova article from the Encyclopedia Britannica.

Stars
Planets
Space
Physics
Quatr.us home


LIMITED TIME OFFER FOR TEACHERS: Using this article with your class? Show us your class page where you're using this article, and we'll send you a free subscription so all your students can use Quatr.us Study Guides with no distractions! (Not a teacher? Paid subscriptions are also available for just $16/year!)
Please help other teachers and students find us: link to this page from your class page.
Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
Cite this page
  • Author: K.E. Carr
  • Title:
  • Site Name: Quatr.us Study Guides
  • Publisher: Quatr.us
  • Date Published:
Proud of your class page, homework page, or resource page? Send it in and win a Quatr.us "Great Page!" award!
Sign up for more free articles and special offers in Quatr.us' weekly newsletter:
We will never share your e-mail address unless you allow us to do so. View our privacy policy. Easy unsubscribe links are provided in every email.
Comment on This Article

Does your class page honor diversity, celebrate feminism, and support people of color, LBGTQ people, and people with disabilities? Let us know, and we'll send you a Diversity Banner you can proudly display!
Looking for more?
Quatr.us is loading comments...
(Comments will appear after moderation, if they are kind and helpful. Feel free to ask questions, and we'll try to answer them.)
Cite this page
  • Carr, K.E. . Quatr.us Study Guides, . Web. 23 March, 2017
ADVERTISEMENT