Eta Carinae, in the constellation of Carina, one of the nearer candidates for a future hypernova

Hypernova (pl. hypernovae), also known as a type 1c Supernova, refers to an incredibly large star that collapses at the end of its lifespan. Until the 1990s, it referred specifically to an explosion with an energy of over 100 supernovae (over 1048 joules); such explosions are believed to be the origin of long-duration gamma-ray bursts.[1]

After the 1990s, the term came to be used to describe the supernovae of the most massive stars, the hypergiants, which have masses from 100 to over 300 times that of the Sun. Decaying 56Ni, a short-lived isotope of nickel, is believed to provide much of a hypernova's light.[2]

The radiation output of a nearby hypernova could cause serious harm to Earth; however, no hypergiant is located close enough to Earth to pose a threat.[3] A group led by Brian Thomas, an astrophysicist at Washburn University in Kansas, has conjectured that a hypernova may have caused the Ordovician–Silurian mass extinction on Earth 440 million years ago, but there is no unambiguous evidence of it.[4]

The word collapsar, short for collapsed star, was formerly used to refer to the end product of stellar gravitational collapse, a stellar-mass black hole. The word is sometimes used now to refer to a specific model for the collapse of a fast-rotating star, as discussed below.


Collapsing star

The core of a hypernova collapses directly into a black hole, and two extremely energetic jets of plasma are emitted from its rotational poles at nearly the speed of light. These jets emit intense gamma rays and are a candidate explanation for long-duration gamma-ray bursts. However, hypernovas are not a candidate to explain short duration gamma-ray bursts, which are apparently not associated with massive stars, since some short bursts appear in regions where there is no new star formation – a necessity since massive stars have short lifetimes and thus must be newly-born.

The energy output of a hypernova from a massive star, plus a beaming effect, is needed to explain the observed brightness plus the great distance (up to 10 billion light years, as measured by red shift of afterglow ionization) of long-duration (> 2 seconds) gamma-ray bursts, which requires on the order of 1044 joules of gamma radiation emission. The mechanism is that since powerful energy jets would be created along the rotation axis of the black hole, a burst of high-energy radiation would appear to an observer in the path of the jet, even at a distance which is a large fraction of that to the visible edge of the universe. To date, hypernovas and long-duration gamma-ray bursts have been seen in stellar nurseries, but none has yet been observed in our own galaxy.

Since stars large enough to collapse directly into a black hole are quite rare, hypernovae would likewise be rare, if they indeed occur. It has been estimated that a hypernova would occur in our galaxy every 200 million years.

In recent years a great deal of observational data on long-duration gamma-ray bursts significantly increased our understanding of these events and made clear that the collapse model produces explosions that differ only in detail from more or less ordinary supernovae. Nevertheless, they continue sometimes to be referred to in the literature as hypernovae. The word hypernova itself was coined by S.E. Woosley.[5]

Collapsar is currently used as the name of a hypothetical model where a fast-rotating Wolf-Rayet star with a massive (greater than 30 solar masses) core collapses to form a large, rotating black hole, drawing in the surrounding envelope of stellar matter at relativistic speeds with a Lorentz factor of around 150. These speeds would make collapsars the fastest known celestial objects. They may be considered to be "failed" type Ib supernovae.

A possible example of a collapsar is the unusual supernova Sn1998bw, which was associated with the gamma-ray burst GRB 980425. This was classified as a type Ic supernova due to its distinctive spectral properties in the radio spectrum, indicating the presence of relativistic matter.

Another type of hypernova is a pair-instability supernova, of which SN 2006gy was possibly the first observed example. This supernova event was observed in a galaxy about 240 million light years (72 million parsecs) from Earth. In a pair-instability supernova, the pair production effect causes a sudden pressure drop in the star's core, leading to a rapid partial collapse, which causes a sharp rise in temperature and pressure leading to an explosive thermonuclear burning and complete explosion of the star.

In fiction

Jack McDevitt's science fiction novel The Devil's Eye features a hypernova outside the Milky Way.

The science fiction novel The Forever War describes collapsars as a way to travel faster than light in its universe. They are, however, much smaller in scale and in much greater abundance in the book than they are in reality.

See also


Further reading

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Look at other dictionaries:

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