The Supernova as Creator

As you might expect, an explosion as tremendous as that of a supernova creates a great deal of debris. The Crab Nebula, in the constellation Taurus, is the remnant of a supernova that appeared in c.e. 1054. Chinese astronomers left records of that event, reporting a star so brilliant that it was visible for a month in broad daylight. The bright radio source Cassiopeia A is also a supernova remnant.

But supernovae create far more than glowing remnants.

Hydrogen and helium, the two most basic elements in the universe, are also the most primitive. They existed before the creation of the stars. A few other elements (carbon, oxygen, neon, silicon and sulfur) are created by nuclear fusion in low and high-mass stars. But all of the other elements in the universe are created only in supernova explosions. Only in these explosions is there enough energy to bring nuclei together with sufficient force to create elements heavier than iron.

The only elements that existed at the beginning of the universe were hydrogen and a little bit of helium, beryllium, and lithium. The rest of the periodic table was generated by stars. Each one of us contains the debris of a supernova explosion.

Discovery image of Type II Supernova 2001. Bars indicate postition of the supernova.

(Image from T. Puckett and M. Peoples)

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