Stars emit a huge quantity of light, but like cars they have a fuel tank, which, when empty cannot be refilled. Consequently, they die. Small stars (less than 8 solar masses) die peacefully, unlike massive stars, which depart in a huge explosion called a supernova.
SN1987A. Credit: Hubble Heritage Team (AURA/STSci/NASA).
At the time of explosion the luminosity of the star increases by a factor of ten thousand. The supernova which took place in our galaxy in 1054 was visible in daylight. But supernovae generally occur at great distances from our Galaxy, except for one, called SN1987A, which exploded in 1987 in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a small galaxy near the Milky Way.
During a supernova explosion the energy density is so extreme that atoms already formed in the centre of the star, such as helium, carbon and oxygen, fuse and form new, more complex atoms. A large amount of these atoms are radioactive and emit gamma-rays.
One of these atoms is Cobalt 56, 56Co, detected in the supernova of 1987, SN1987A. INTEGRAL will observe supernovae in the vicinity of our galaxy to measure the quantity of elements formed during the explosion, enabling us to better understand the explosion mechanism.
Last Update: 18 Mar 2008