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  • Educator Samantha Kuula
  • Animator Nick Hilditch

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Additional Resources for you to Explore
Finding supernovas fascinating? Visit HALO a dedicated supernova neutrino detector located at SNOLAB. Take a 360 degree virtual tour of SNOLAB here. The Helium and Lead Observatory (HALO) is a dedicated supernova neutrino detector that is being constructed underground in the Creighton Mine in Sudbury Ontario Canada over 2 kilometers beneath Earth’s surface. It uses 79 tons of lead blocks along with 128 tubular Helium-3 neutron detectors to detect neutrinos from supernovae within our Milky Way Galaxy. HALO is part of the worldwide Supernova Early Warning System (SNEWS). The plan is that it will help detect supernovae by their neutrino burst, before their light reaches Earth then notify both professional and amateur astronomers! For more on Why Neutrinos Matter, visit this TED-Ed lesson.

Thinking about supernova Physics as an interest? Supernovae represent a catastrophic event for a star that effectively ends its active lifetime. These events can briefly outshine entire galaxies and radiate more energy than our sun will in its entire lifetime. Visit NASA’s information page on supernovas! They are also the primary source of heavy elements in the universe. On average, a supernova will occur about once every 25-50 years in a galaxy the size of the Milky Way. Put another way, a star explodes every second or so somewhere in the universe. Exactly how a star ends its life depends in part on its mass.

A star can go supernova in one of two ways in which each type is broken up into subtypes. Type I supernova: star accumulates matter from a nearby neighbor until a runaway nuclear reaction ignites. This first type of supernova happens in binary star systems. Binary stars are two stars that orbit the same point. One of the stars, a carbon-oxygen white dwarf, steals matter from its companion star. Eventually, the white dwarf accumulates too much matter. Having too much matter causes the star to explode, resulting in a supernova. Type II supernova: star runs out of nuclear fuel and collapses under its own gravity. This second type of supernova occurs at the end of a single star’s lifetime. As the star runs out of nuclear fuel, some of its mass flows into its core. Eventually, the core is so heavy that it cannot withstand its own gravitational force. The core collapses, which results in the giant explosion of a supernova. The sun is a single star, but it does not have enough mass to become a supernova. Visit this NASA site to find out more.

The Supernova Early Warning System or SNEWS project involves an international collaboration of experimenters representing current supernova neutrino detectors. In addition, gravitational wave detectors will be involved. The goal of SNEWS is to provide the astronomical community with a prompt alert of the occurrence of a Galactic core collapse event. We are also engaged in cooperative inter-experiment work, such as downtime coordination and inter-experiment timing verification, designed to optimize global sensitivity to a core collapse supernova signal. Are you an amateur astronomer? Sign up here for a SNEWS Alert and keep your eyes on the skies and someday, we will detect that supernova we have all been waiting for.