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After the stars were formed, they cooked up the elements up to Iron in the periodic table.


higher than Iron in the table was made in the supernova explosions.

Supernovae aren't simply incredible explosions; they represent a cosmic yard stick of sorts. Cosmologists

rely on the light produced by supernovae to map out the contours of distant galaxies. Type Ia

supernovae, like this one, are of particular interest, because their explosions are the most predictable,

and often the brightest events in the sky. Because Ia supernovae give off a standard amount of light

based on their mass, scientists can calculate their distance from Earth.

Our current cosmological maps rely on how bright astronomers assume supernovae to be. But these

calculations are fraught with some uncertainty, since determining the true brightness of an object

millions of light years away is tricky business. The ideal solution to this problem would be to find a type

Ia supernova so close by that astronomers could analyze the star before and after detonation to

determine exact brightness.

First and foremost, we and much of the Earth are made of the material supernovae created. According

to current theories about the formation of the Universe, all of the original material in the Universe

was hydrogen and helium, with very slight traces of some other materials. All the stuff we, and the

Earth around us, are made of, like iron and oxygen and carbon, has come from that initial material

being fused to form heavier elements in the cores of stars. But the heaviest elements, like iron, are

only formed in the massive stars which end their lives in supernovae. Our blood has iron in the

hemoglobin which is vital to our ability to breath. So without supernovae, most forms of life on Earth,

including us, would not be possible. And much of the material the Earth is made of would not exist.

Supernovae also create shock waves through the interstellar medium (the stuff between stars),

compressing material there. Astronomers believe that these shock waves are vital to the process of
star formation, causing large clouds of gas to collapse and form new stars. No supernovae, no new


Supernovae throw much of the material from their parent star back out into the interstellar medium,

changing its chemical composition. This adds many elements to the interstellar medium which were not

present before, or were only present in trace amounts. Other less massive stars also enrich the

interstellar medium, but lack many of the heavier elements. The gradual enrichment of the interstellar

medium with heavier elements has made subtle changes to how stars burn: the fusion process in our

own Sun is moderated by the presence of carbon. The first stars in the Universe had much less carbon

and their lives were somewhat different from modern stars. Stars which will be formed in the future will

have even more of these heavier elements and will have somewhat different life cycles. So supernovae

play a very important part in this chemical evolution of the Universe.

Scientists believe that the solar system was formed when a cloud of gas and dust in space was

disturbed, maybe by the explosion of a nearby star (called a supernova). This explosion made waves

in space which squeezed the cloud of gas and dust. Squeezing made the cloud start to collapse, as

gravity pulled the gas and dust together, forming a solar nebula. Just like a dancer that spins faster as

she pulls in her arms, the cloud began to spin as it collapsed. Eventually, the cloud grew hotter and

denser in the center, with a disk of gas and dust surrounding it that was hot in the center but cool at

the edges. As the disk got thinner and thinner, particles began to stick together and form clumps.

Some clumps got bigger, as particles and small clumps stuck to them, eventually forming planets or

moons . Near the center of the cloud, where planets like Earth formed, only rocky material could

stand the great heat. Icy matter settled in the outer regions of the disk along with rocky material,

where the giant planets like Jupiter formed. As the cloud continued to fall in, the center eventually
got so hot that it became a star, the Sun, and blew most of the gas and dust of the new solar system

with a strong stellar wind. By studying meteorites, which are thought to be left over from this early

phase of the solar system, scientists have found that the solar system is about 4600 million years old!