Mass determines a star’s fate… except when it doesn’t.
Supernova events are common, visually spectacular astronomical cataclysms.
A massive star’s death throes shine brighter than 10 billion Suns combined.
Radiation from fusion reactions typically prevents stars from collapsing gravitationally.
With exhausted fuel sources, stellar cores implode, rebound, and trigger explosive conflagrations: type II supernovae.
But sometimes, despite sufficient masses, stars never explode. Here’s why.
1.) Mass thievery. The outer, lighter-element layers are required for massive supernovae.
Mass-siphoning binary companions can “abort” otherwise inevitable explosions, creating exotic white dwarf remnants.
2.) Stellar destruction. Nearby, large masses can rip stars apart entirely.
These Tidal Disruption Events are cataclysmic, irreversible, star-destroying occurrences.
3.) Direct collapse. Some massive stars don’t explode, but collapse directly into black holes.
Stars born with 17-to-30 solar masses may all suffer this ignominious fate.
4.) Supernova impostor. Surface reactions, like novae, can cause rapid, transient brightenings.
With intact cores, however, such stars remain alive and evolving.
5.) Thorne-Zytkow object. Red supergiants can absorb compact companions.
With neutron star or white dwarf cores, the larger star’s fate is sealed: no supernova.
However, supernova “failures” that end in white dwarfs create second chances.
Colliding or merging white dwarfs will trigger type Ia supernovae.
These “standard candles” revealed our Universe’s ultimate fate.
Mostly Mute Monday tells an astronomical story in images, visuals, and no more than 200 words. Talk less; smile more.
Starts With A Bang is written by Ethan Siegel, Ph.D., author of Beyond The Galaxy, and Treknology: The Science of Star Trek from Tricorders to Warp Drive.