Supernovae – the universe’s engines 

About Supernovae: 

About Supernovae
  • A star exists in a delicate equilibrium between opposing forces:
    • Outward energy and pressure resulting from nuclear fusion
    • Gravitational pull inward due to its considerable mass.
  • As long as a star can sustain nuclear fusion, releasing more energy than needed for the fusion process, it remains stable.
  • However, when this balance tips and the star’s fusion can no longer counteract the force of gravity, a pivotal shift occurs.
  • Gravity gains the upper hand, causing the star to collapse rapidly, leading to a sudden explosion of its outer layers – an event known as a core-collapse supernova.
  • A substantial amount of energy, radiation, and elemental matter is ejected into the surrounding space during the supernova event.
  • Characterized by the explosive demise of a massive supergiant star, a supernova can release a staggering energy output of up to 10^44 joules, comparable to the Sun’s cumulative energy emission over its 10-billion-year lifespan.
  • This cataclysmic process generally leads to the fusion of iron within the star’s core, reaching the point where the binding energy of the iron group elements is the highest. Consequently, no further energy can be extracted from nuclear fusion.

Where Do Supernovas Occur?

  • Supernovas frequently occur in distant galaxies, but their observation within Milky Way galaxy is hindered by obstructive dust.
  • Back in 1604, Johannes Kepler made a notable discovery, identifying the most recent observed supernova within the Milky Way.
  • Notably, NASA’s Chandra telescope has since uncovered the remnants of a more recent Milky Way supernova that erupted over a century ago.

Variants of Supernovae: 

  • The first variant of a supernova is observed in binary star systems.
  • Within these systems, two stars orbit a shared point. Specifically, a carbon-oxygen white dwarf, one of the binary stars, siphons matter from its companion.
  • Over time, this white dwarf accumulates an excess of matter, leading to an eventual explosive demise and the birth of a supernova.
  • The second class of supernova transpires as a single star concludes its life cycle.
  • As nuclear fuel depletes, a portion of the star’s mass streams into its core.
  • Gradually, the core’s immense weight becomes untenable against its own gravitational pull.
  • Consequently, the core undergoes a catastrophic collapse, giving rise to a monumental supernova explosion.
  • It’s important to note that while our sun is a lone star, its mass is insufficient to trigger a supernova event.


  • One variety of supernova has yielded crucial insights for scientists, underscoring the concept of an expanding universe that perpetually accelerates its growth.
  • Moreover, researchers have deduced that supernovas play a pivotal role in the universal dispersion of elements.
  • When a star undergoes explosion, it propels elemental matter and debris into space
  • The heavy metals present in Earth’s crust, including valuable elements like gold and uranium, owe their origins to the intense conditions within certain supernovae, which occurred eons ago.

Previous Year Question (2019)

Q. Recently, scientists observed the merger of giant ‘blackholes’ billions of light-years away from the earth. What is the significance of this observation?

(a) ‘Higgs boson particles’ were detected.

(b) ‘Gravitational waves’ were detected.

(c) Possibility of intergalactic space travel through ‘wormhole’ was confirmed.

(d) It enabled the scientists to understand ‘singularity’.

Answer: (b)

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