Shop Windows to the Universe

Earth Science Rocks! Select one of our four cool NESTA t-shirts from our online store, and express your love of Earth and space science!
This Hubble Space Telescope photograph shows supernova, 1987A, with its three rings. Material from the explosion has begun to hit the inner ring.
Click on image for full size

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.

Shop Windows to the Universe Science Store!

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.

Windows to the Universe Community



You might also be interested in:

Cool It! Game

Check out our online store - minerals, fossils, books, activities, jewelry, and household items!...more

Exploratour - Evolution of the Solar System

Scientists believe that the solar system was formed when the cloud of gas and dust was disturbed, maybe by the explosion of a nearby star. Such an explosion is called a supernova. A supernova makes waves...more

Black Holes Out for a Spin

Everyone is awed by black holes. How could there be a thing that devours all light and matter around that matter can never escape?!? A new discovery has been made about black holes - some of them...more

Flying Atoms?

Scientists have found a possible source of the high speed atoms flying through space in the form of cosmic rays. These atoms reach velocities close to the speed of light. It was known that the source...more

Titanic Stellar Explosion

Shock waves from supernova explosion collide with gas ring!! Traveling at 40 million mph, a wave of energy released in a supernova explosion has begun to collide with a ring of gas surrounding the area...more

Solar System Formation

Scientists believe that the solar system was formed when a cloud of gas and dust in space was disturbed, maybe by the explosion of a nearby star (called a supernova). This explosion made waves in space...more

Williamina Fleming

Williamina Paton Stevens Fleming was a Scottish-American astronomer who lived from 1857-1911. She discovered 10 of the 24 novae then known. Novae are stars that suddenly increase their brightness then...more

Gamma Ray Bursts - The Most Powerful Objects in the Universe?

In the 1960's, the United States launched some satellites to look for very high energy light, called Gamma Rays. Gamma Rays are produced whenever a nuclear bomb explodes. The satellites found many bursts...more

Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part by the National Science Foundation and NASA, our Founding Partners (the American Geophysical Union and American Geosciences Institute) as well as through Institutional, Contributing, and Affiliate Partners, individual memberships and generous donors. Thank you for your support! NASA AGU AGI NSF