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Science Nation: Super Stars

3 minutes

(Describer) Streams of light collide to create a globe filled with water. Title: Science Nation. In computer animation, a sphere explodes.

(male narrator) This is a computer-generated image of an explosion deep inside a star. It's not a run-of-the-mill thermonuclear explosion that fuels a healthy star. Instead, it's the kind of explosion that seals its fate.

(Describer) Another light flashes.

[explosion]

It's called a supernova. The star's surface and most of its mass is completely oblivious to it's impending fate.

(Describer) Adam Burrows:

That explosion, which will take on the order of a few seconds, will propagate through the star on periods of hours to a day.

(narrator) With help from the National Science Foundation, Princeton University astrophysicist Adam Burrows uses supercomputers to create 3D images of supernovae that allow him to peer inside stars just before they explode.

(Burrows) One thing we've discovered is that it doesn't explode as a ring expanding out. It explodes in tendrils and fingers, it explodes very turbulently.

(narrator) Burrows says it's important to learn about supernovae because without them, there would be no us.

(Burrows) Supernova are important for a variety of reasons. The ejected material in the supernova mixes with the interstellar medium. That material will start to collapse. Some gas will form the next generation of stars, going through the same cycle again. They're also the source of many heavy elements of nature.

(narrator) Elements like calcium in bones, fluoride in your toothpaste, or iron in your blood are all manufactured in supernovae. It takes lots of star power to make those elements.

(Describer) Another bright explosion fills the screen.

(Burrows) Every time they explode, they give off as much as 10 to the 28 megatons of TNT equivalent in energy. That's one with 28 zeros followed megatons, where a megaton is the explosive equivalent of the one of the largest hydrogen bombs.

(narrator) The simulations are created using complex mathematical models and take months to process.

(Burrows) Being able to understand the explosions with these simulations, I think, is a milestone in theoretical astrophysics.

(narrator) Understanding cosmic super stars with a little help from supercomputers.

(Describer) The globe turns.

For Science Nation, I'm Miles O' Brien.

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Who are the biggest super stars in the universe? For Adam Burrows, an astrophysics professor at Princeton University, it's not who, but "what," and they are far from Hollywood, or even Earth, for that matter. Burrows reveals that the biggest super stars are the stars that die in a massive explosion called a "supernova." With support from the National Science Foundation, Burrows investigates supernovae, and he has recently created 3D computer simulations showing the actual moment of a star's death. His simulations are revealing more about these stellar performances.

Media Details

Runtime: 3 minutes

Science Nation
Episode 1
4 minutes
Grade Level: 7 - 12
Science Nation
Episode 2
4 minutes
Grade Level: 7 - 12
Science Nation
Episode 3
4 minutes
Grade Level: 7 - 12
Science Nation
Episode 4
4 minutes
Grade Level: 7 - 12
Science Nation
Episode 5
4 minutes
Grade Level: 7 - 12
Science Nation
Episode 6
4 minutes
Grade Level: 9 - 12
Science Nation
Episode 7
4 minutes
Grade Level: 9 - 12
Science Nation
Episode 8
4 minutes
Grade Level: 9 - 12
Science Nation
Episode 9
4 minutes
Grade Level: 7 - 12
Science Nation
Episode 10
4 minutes
Grade Level: 10 - 12