Carina Nebula

The Carina Nebula, NGC 3372, is a star forming region located about 7,500 light years away in the Sagittarius-Carina Arm of the Milky Way. It is over 300 light years away, one of the largest star forming regions in our galaxy. Over 14,000 stars have been located within the region.

The region includes Trumpler 15, an area with a deficit of X-ray activity suggesting that some of the young, massive stars have already died in supernova explosions. Six possible neutron stars in the Carina Nebula support the hypothesis that supernova activity is increasing. The nebula also contains Eta Carinae, a variable star over 100 times the mass of our Sun. 

Image from National Geographic, information from NASA, NASA, and NASA.



  • Supernovae are stellar explosions that are so powerful they briefly outshine entire galaxies, radiating as much energy as the Sun or any ordinary star is expected to emit over its entire life span
  • The Universe is so vast that it is estimated that a star explodes every second. In a galaxy the size of our Milky Way, a star will go supernova every 50 years on average.
  • A star can go supernova in one of two ways: 
    • Type I supernova: star accumulates matter from a nearby neighbor until a runaway nuclear reaction ignites. 
    • Type II supernova: star runs out of nuclear fuel and collapses under its own gravity.
  • Supernovae play a key role in distributing elements throughout the universe. When the star explodes, it shoots elements and debris into space. Many of the elements we find here on Earth, including life, are made in the core of stars. These elements travel on to form new stars, planets and everything else in the universe.

Supernovae as seen by the Chandra X-Ray Observatory
Crab Nebula | Cassiopeia A  | Tycho’s Supernova Remnant  | G292.0+1.8

This image shows the red supergiant Betelgeuse (In the upper left).

Betelgeuse is nearing the end of its life and when it finally reaches that point, it will explode as a type II supernova. This explosion will be so vast that it will be brighter than the Moon at night, and will be visible in the sky during the day.

Astronomers have recently predicted an estimated explosion date of 100,000 years from now.

(Image credit: Rogelio Bernal Andreo)

Astronomers Watch a Supernova and See Reruns

By Dennis Overbye

It’s “Groundhog Day” in the cosmos.

In the 1993 Bill Murray movie, a weatherman finds himself reliving the same day over and over again. Now astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope say they have been watching the same star blow itself to smithereens in a supernova explosion over and over again, thanks to a trick of Einsteinian optics.

The star exploded more than nine billion years ago on the other side of the universe, too far for even the Hubble to see without special help from the cosmos. In this case, however, light rays from the star have been bent and magnified by the gravity of an intervening cluster of galaxies so that multiple images of it appear.

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This is a new image of GK Persei, an object that became a sensation in the astronomical world in 1901 when it suddenly appeared as one of the brightest stars in the sky for a few days.
Today, astronomers cite GK Persei as an example of a “classical nova,” an outburst produced by a thermonuclear explosion on the surface of a white dwarf star, the remnant of a Sun-like star.
The image above is put together of X-rays from Chandra X-ray Observatory, optical data from Hubble Space Telescope (yellow), and radio data from the National Science Foundation’s Very Large Array (pink):

Look at that explosion!

Stellar partnership doomed to end in catastrophe

Astronomers using ESO facilities in combination with telescopes in the Canary Islands have identified two surprisingly massive stars at the heart of the planetary nebula Henize 2-428. As they orbit each other the two stars are expected to slowly get closer and closer, and when they merge, about 700 million years from now, they will contain enough material to ignite a vast supernova explosion.

The team of astronomers, led by Miguel Santander-García (Observatorio Astronómico Nacional, Alcalá de Henares, Spain;Instituto de Ciencia de Materiales de Madrid (CSIC), Madrid, Spain), has discovered a close pair of white dwarf stars — tiny, extremely dense stellar remnants — that have a total mass of about 1.8 times that of the Sun. This is the most massive such pair yet found and when these two stars merge in the future they will create a runaway thermonuclear explosion leading to a Type Ia supernova.
The team who found this massive pair actually set out to try to solve a different problem. They wanted to find out how some stars produce such strangely shaped and asymmetric nebulae late in their lives. One of the objects they studied was the unusual planetary nebula known as Henize 2-428.
“When we looked at this object’s central star with ESO’s Very Large Telescope, we found not just one but a pair of stars at the heart of this strangely lopsided glowing cloud,” says coauthor Henri Boffin from ESO.
This supports the theory that double central stars may explain the odd shapes of some of these nebulae, but an even more interesting result was to come.
“Further observations made with telescopes in the Canary Islands allowed us to determine the orbit of the two stars and deduce both the masses of the two stars and their separation. This was when the biggest surprise was revealed,”  reports Romano Corradi, another of the study’s authors and researcher at the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias (Tenerife, IAC).
They found that each of the stars has a mass slightly less than that of the Sun and that they orbit each other every four hours. They are sufficiently close to one another that, according to the Einstein’s theory of general relativity, they will grow closer and closer, spiralling in due to the emission of gravitational waves, before eventually merging into a single star within the next 700 million years.
The resulting star will be so massive that nothing can then prevent it from collapsing in on itself and subsequently exploding as a supernova. “Until now, the formation of supernovae Type Ia by the merging of two white dwarfs was purely theoretical,” explains David Jones, coauthor of the article and ESO Fellow at the time the data were obtained. “The pair of stars in Henize 2-428 is the real thing!”
“It’s an extremely enigmatic system,” concludes Santander-García. “It will have important repercussions for the study of supernovae Type Ia, which are widely used to measure astronomical distances and were key to the discovery that the expansion of the Universe is accelerating due to dark energy”.

Image credit: ESO/L. Calçada


Neil deGrasse Tyson reflects on the fact that the very atoms that compose us were created in the hearts of dying stars and supernovae explosions. 

Music credit: IAmAmIWhoAmI- “Fountain”
Animation credit: Ray LaMontagne
Quote credit: TIME interview

Today is the anniversary of the discovery of the first modern supernova, currently named SN1987A, located in the Tarantala Nebula in the Large Magellanic Cloud.  It was independently discovered by both  Ian Shelton and Oscar Duhalde of the Las Campanas Observatory in Chile on the night of February 23/24, 1987, and within the same 24 hours independently by Albert Jones in New Zealand. Two weeks later, between March 4–12, 1987 it was observed from space by Astron, a large ultraviolet space telescope. The supernova has yet to receive an official name.  

While plenty of modern scientific words can be dated accurately, the older a word is (in general) the harder it is to pin down a date.  The word supernova however, defies this logic.  Late October 1604 (and some sources give the date 6 November 1604) a new and bright object appeared in the sky.  German astronomer and mathematician Johannes Kepler (born 27 December 1571-15 November 1630) noticed the ‘new’ object and unsure what exactly it was, simply named it stella nova, from the Latin words for new star.  It wasn’t until the 1930s that astronomers Walter Baade and Fritz Zwicky started using the term super-nova and by 1938 the hyphen was dropped and the word became supernova.  The first reliably recorded supernova was noted by Pliny the Elder in AD 185.  Notable supernovae (note the plural maintains the Latin form and does not take the -s that English mostly uses) occurred in 1054, noted mainly by Chinese and Arabic astronomers, and the supernova of 1572 noted extensively by Tycho Brahe.

Time-lapse animation of SN1987A from 1994 to 2009, video compilation courtesy Mark Macdonald, via Larsson, J. et al. (2011). “X-ray illumination of the ejecta of supernova 1987A”. Nature 474 (7352): 484–486., used with permission under a Creative Commons 3.0 license.