RUSSELL KIGHTLEY / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY RUSSELL KIGHTLEY / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY
Type Ia supernova, animation. 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, lower right) from its companion star (orange, upper left). The extra mass triggers a wave of nuclear fusion of relatively heavy elements, such as carbon, causing the white dwarf to explode. This can force the two stars apart, shown here as the ejection of the white dwarf from the binary system. The white dwarf is shown travelling towards a nearby galaxy.
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