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Our Glaciers: Then and Now activity kit helps you see the changes taking place in glaciers around the world. See all our activity kits and classroom activities.
This Hubble Space Telescope photograph shows supernova, 1987A, with its three rings. Material from the explosion has begun to hit the inner ring.
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Exploding Stars

Stars don't last forever. Occasionally, a star bigger than our Sun will end its life in a huge explosion, called a supernova.


This explosion happens because the center, or core, of the star collapses in less than a second. The outer layers of the star are blown off in the explosion, leaving a contracting core of the star after the supernova. The shock waves and material that fly out from the supernova can cause the formation of new stars. There are many beautiful images of supernova remnants, the expanding shell of gas made up of the outer layers of the original star.


Supernovae last one or two years, and can shine brighter than a whole galaxy for this time. What happens to the star after the supernova depends on how big it was to begin with. If the star was only a few times bigger than the Sun, the core will shrink into a tiny neutron star only a few miles across. If the star was much bigger than the Sun, the core will shrink down to a black hole.


Last modified May 6, 2008 by Randy Russell.

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The Summer 2010 issue of The Earth Scientist, available in our online store, includes articles on rivers and snow, classroom planetariums, satellites and oceanography, hands-on astronomy, and global warming.

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