Imagine an explosion in space so powerful that it is exceeded in power only perhaps by the Big Bang genesis. Fathom an explosion which produces more energy in a few seconds than the entire Universe emits within the same time frame.

Comprehend an event one hundred times more powerful than the mighty supernovae eruptions.

Welcome to the world of the HYPERNOVA. (And, yes, I am going to capitalize its letters every time.) HYPERNOVAE explosions were discovered in the late 1990s by researchers striving to understand the cause of gamma ray bursts.

Gamma rays bursts occur in random parts of the sky. They produce copious amounts of gamma radiation (the most energetic radiation in the EM spectrum) These GRB’s were first discovered in the 1960s.

Astronomers still find about one a day. They flash at random from the farthest reaches of outer space.

For the last three decades, astrophysicists have endeavored to develop models to explain how nature could emit high power radiation in such vast quantities.

You couldn’t explain GRB’s just by using supernova explosions. Supernovae are caused by the destruction of highly massive stars. During these supernovae events, the stellar core collapses: the outer layers then collapse under their own gravity:the rapid implosion leads to a titanic explosion.

Supernovae explosions create heavy element remnant nebulae in space, like the Crab Nebula in Taurus (or the Supernove 1987A ring in the Large Magellanic Cloud.)

Supernovae can also produce neutron stars, spheres as dense as a neutron.

Imagine the entire mass of a star reduced to the volume of a city. Spinning neutron stars are called pulsars.

Yet, even these amazing events pale in comparison to HYPERNOVAE explosions.

But, what are they, exactly? What could make a HYPERNOVA?

There are no easy answers to this question: only speculation based on the scientific knowledge we have already gained from observation and physical modeling.

Possibly, a HYPERNOVA is caused by the collision of two neutron stars, or the collision of a neutron star into a black hole.

Or, perhaps it is a type of supernova: the upper limit of supernova explosion in which the most massive of the massive stars explode, producing a black hole in their cores.

After all, we do have hypergiant stars: stars 50 to 100 times more massive than the Sun.

Could HYPERNOVAE be the end stage of the hypergiants?

Researchers are still searching for the cause of these HYPERNOVAE. Of course, they so believe that these events could produce the spectacular gamma ray bursts which appear all over the sky

Fortunately for us, no hypernova had occurred in our galactic vicinity. Were we within a few thousand light years of these explosions, our entire planet and its delicate biospheres could be imperiled.

Edward Gleason is the manager of the Southworth Planetarium.


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