Archive for the ‘supernova’ Category

Atoms may come apart as the Universe’s biggest stars explode

October 24th, 2018
This is what a quark-gluon plasma looks like when you don't have several Suns' worth of mass crushing it back together.

Enlarge / This is what a quark-gluon plasma looks like when you don't have several Suns' worth of mass crushing it back together. (credit: Brookhaven National Lab)

The building blocks of atoms, protons and neutrons, are composed of a collection of particles called quarks and gluons. Shortly after the Big Bang, however, the Universe was too energetic and dense for the quarks and gluons to form stable interactions. Instead, the Universe was filled with a form of matter called a quark-gluon plasma, where the particles could interact with each other promiscuously.

Billions of years later, a bunch of primates figured out how to re-create a quark-gluon plasma by smashing heavy atoms together. It was the first time the material is known to have existed since the Universe's first moments. But a group of astrophysicists is now suggesting that the biggest stars in the Universe also form something like a quark-gluon plasma as they explode, and these researchers use this to explain why we see so many distinct-looking supernovae.

It goes boom

Physical models of stellar explosions have done remarkably well at explaining what we see out in the Universe. They have helped us understand the amount of mass needed before a star will explode (as opposed to forming a white dwarf) and can describe the differences among a number of classes of supernovae. But something rather embarrassing happens as we move on to larger stars. For blue supergiants, with dozens of times the Sun's mass, the models stop exploding.

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We may have caught supernova debris slamming into neighboring stars

August 17th, 2017

Enlarge / When the smaller star finally explodes, its companion will obviously get hit by the debris. (credit: Fermilab)

Supernovae are some of the most energetic events in the Universe, sending massive shock waves out into the interstellar medium. And there’s every reason to think those shock waves run into things before they’ve had much of a chance to dissipate. Many stars have companions, either planets or other stars that orbit in reasonable proximity. In fact, there’s an entire subtype of supernova that appears to require a nearby companion.

So what happens to these objects when the shock wave hits? With our improved ability to rapidly identify supernovae, we may be on the cusp of finding out. Several times recently, researchers have spotted an extra blue glow to the burst of light from a supernova. And, in the most detailed observations yet, they make the case this glow comes from the supernova debris slamming into a companion star.

A supernova explosion that envelopes a nearby star is an inevitability. Eta Carinae, for example, is a system with two stars that are at least 30 times the Sun’s mass, meaning they’ll both eventually explode as a type-II supernova. Whichever goes first will undoubtedly send debris into the second. But there’s a different class of supernova, type-Ia, which requires the presence of a nearby star.

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