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Supernova. Artwork of a type Ia supernova. Supernovae are star explosions that briefly release vast amounts of energy. A type Ia supernova occurs in a binary star system when gas falls onto an old, dense star (white dwarf, upper right) from its companion star (left). The extra mass triggers a wave of nuclear fusion of relatively heavy elements, such as carbon, causing the white dwarf to explode. Other types of supernova are caused by giant stars collapsing after running out of suitable material for nuclear fusion. A supernova may leave behind a black hole or a rapidly spinning, superdense neutron star (pulsar).

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