Supernovae

What Do Exploding Stars Tell Us About the History of the Universe ?

Welcome to the NSO's Citizen Science project on Type Ia supernovae (SNe). Citizen Science is an exciting development where scientists enlist the help of volunteers to collect and/or analyse data. In this project, we will give you some astronomical images and instructions on how to analyse them. This project is funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). 

Figure 1: Artist's Impression of the Supernova, SN2016aps
Credit: M. Weiss

This activity is about supernovae - exploding stars which can increase in brightness very suddenly and unexpectedly. This increase in brightness can be a factor of up to 100 million. However, this marks the end of the star’s life and so supernovae are considered “cataclysmic” or one-off events.

Upon exploding, supernovae can release up to 1044 joules of energy. For comparison, our Sun emits around 1026 joules per second so supernovae release a similar amount of energy to that released by the Sun over its entire 10 billion years lifetime. Sometimes, the light from a single exploding star can be seen by the naked eye. They are often brighter than their host galaxy which itself will contain millions if not billions of stars. 

Stars of similar mass to our Sun will evolve into white dwarfs at the end of their lives. However, massive stars (those that exceed around 10 solar masses), will end their lives in powerful supernova explosions which often leave behind an exotic black hole or neutron star.

You are welcome to navigate your own way through this activity but you may find the order that the pages are listed in the paragraphs below (and in the menu bar) to be useful.

You can find out more about the background to supernovae or learn about the ​processes in the stars that lead to supernovae. Historically, supernovae are categorized into two broad groupings according to whether or not we detect hydrogen in their spectra. Those without hydrogen are known as Type I supernovae; those with hydrogen are known as Type II supernovae.

You may want to learn how we detect supernovae, especially those detected by the Gaia mission, where we find them, their use in cosmology or read about some ​well-known examples of supernovae.

All the resources and instructions you'll need for this activity are on this webpage. Additionally, there are some screencasts which show the basic functions of JS9.

If you get stuck or have any questions, you might want to check our FAQs. Alternatively, please e-mail us using supernovae 'at' schoolsobservatory.org