Bright New Objects Above and Below
By now, you've probably heard that there is a “new star” shining in the sky. The Cigar Galaxy, a deep space object cataloged under the name M82 some 200 years ago by French astronomer Charles Messier, is hosting the cosmic equivalent of a light show -- a supernova.
Novas, from the Latin for “new,” were once considered to be new stars, hence the name. However, we've long since come to learn that they are temporary events that happen when a distant sun experiences a catastrophic collapse. In the case of a category of really powerful novas called supernovas, that event is a cataclysmic explosion caused by a sudden collapse when a star runs out of lighter elements to “burn” through nuclear fusion. Fusion's heat and energy are what keep the star from collapsing in the first place, as with our own sun. The new, denser, hotter star now burns heavier elements instead.
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