The death of a giant star is a pretty straightforward story: a star runs out of fuel, collapses under its own gravity, explodes, and leaves behind either a neutron star or a black hole. Or so we thought. Turns out, the weird world of stellar death is a lot stranger than we ever imagined. But don’t worry, Futurism’s got you covered with this handy field guide to many deaths of giant stars.
1. Ordinary Supernova
A typical supernova involves the collapse of a Star weighing 10 or more times the mass of the Sun, leaving behind a neutron star remnant and blowing off the star’s outer layers in a conventional supernova explosion.
2. False Alarm
- This artist’s impression shows dust forming in the environment around a supernova explosion. VLT observations have shown that these cosmic dust factories make their grains in a two-stage process, starting soon after the explosion, but continuing long afterwards.
Occasionally, a star of about 72 to 150 solar masses fakes us out – it starts to go supernova, but regains its equilibrium, ejecting some of its outer layers in the process. Later, when the star finally does explode, the shock wave strikes these outer layers, producing an “Ultraluminous” Supernova..
If a star of 10 or more solar masses is rapidly spinning, it will collapse to form a “magnetar”- a highly magnetized neutron stars. Forming at the heart of the star as it is collapsing, the magnetar extracts spin energy to boost the supernova into the “hyperluminous” range.
4. Neutron Star Collision
It’s thought that when two neutron stars collide, the majority of their mass coalesces to form a black hole. However, some of it may be converted into energy – in the form of a brief, ultra-dim “kilonova.”
5. Particle Pair Instability
The cores of the most massive stars – between 150 to 300 solar Masters (like R136a1 and Melnick42) – are so hot that they may create pairs of matter and antimatter particles. These would essentially trigger an “antimatter bomb” – completely blowing the star apart and leaving nothing behind.
6. Complete Collapse
The most massive stars, such as the first generation of stars in the universe (300 to potentially 1 million solar masses), might prove to be the most anticlimactic of all – going out with a whimper instead of a bang. Their gravity is so immense that everything gets pulled into the resulting black hole, causing it to fizzle rather than pop.
7. Thermal Runaway
This type of supernova called a type Ia, involves a binary system, consisting of a white dwarf stellar remnant and another star. If the white dwarf is close enough to the Chandrasekhar Limit (ca. 1.4 solar masses), and its companion star orbits closely, it can suck enough material from its neighbor to push its mass over the limit. The result is a runaway thermonuclear explosion, completely destroying the white dwarf.