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May 26, 2009

Dying stars either explode into supernovas or become black holes.


Simulating supernovas…I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

When massive stars burn through all of their fuel, they collapse and then explode into bright supernovas. But for really big stars – ones that are 40 to 60 times the mass of our sun – the picture is a little different. They still collapse but have the potential to form a black hole instead. Evan O’Connor is a graduate student in the theoretical astrophysics group at Caltech. He says many different parameters — not just mass — determine what happens to a collapsed star.

EVAN O’CONNOR (California Institute of Technology):
What we’re trying to do is run simulations that look at all these parameters to see which stars form black holes and which stars explode in supernovas.

O’Connor says the work may help explain stars that seem to disappear. And they hope to better understand the mechanism behind stellar explosions – events so frequent that astronomers see them once a day. I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the science society.