Supernova Discovery Reveals How the Biggest, Brightest Stars Die

Astronomers now have the most direct evidence yet that stars go out with a bang

by Charles Q. Choi | Space.com | May 21, 2014


 A brilliant supernova (right) explodes in the galaxy UGC 9379, located about 360 million light-years from Earth, in this before-and-after view. The left image was taken by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, while the right image was obtained with aAvishay Gal-Yam, Weizmann Institute of Science

A brilliant supernova (right) explodes in the galaxy UGC 9379, located about 360 million light-years from Earth, in this before-and-after view. The left image was taken by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, while the right image was obtained with aAvishay Gal-Yam, Weizmann Institute of Science

The most massive and luminous stars were long suspected to explode when they die, and astronomers now have the most direct evidence yet that these cosmic behemoths go out with a bang.

These findings shed light on the star explosions that provide the universe with the ingredients for planets and life, the researchers added.

With a mass more than 330,000 times that of Earth, the sun accounts for 99.86 percent of the solar system’s total mass. But as stars go, the sun is a lightweight. The largest and most luminous stars in the universe are Wolf-Rayet stars, which are more than 20 times as massive as the sun and at least five times as hot. Only a few hundred of these titan stars are known to astronomers.

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