Science

Astronomers just found a way to predict explosive supernovae

bright colorful bubble against starry background
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Wouldn’t it be nice to know when a giant star will die in a cataclysmic supernova explosion? A team of astronomers did just that. If you see a huge red star surrounded by a thick shell of material, beware — the star is likely to explode within a few years.

As a massive star nears the end of its life, it goes through several violent phases. Deep in the star’s core, it shifts from fusing hydrogen to fusing heavier elements, starting with helium and moving up to carbon, oxygen, magnesium and silicon. Eventually, at the end of the chain, the star forms iron at its core. Since iron consumes energy instead of releasing it, the star is doomed, and in less than a dozen minutes it inverts itself in a fantastic explosion called a supernova.

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