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A supernova is a STAR that explodes It suddenly increases in brightness by a factor of many billions and within a few weeks it slowly fades In terms of the human lifespan such explosions are rare occurrences In our Milky Way galaxy for example a supernova may be observed every few hundred years Three such explosions are recorded in history in 1054 in 1572 and in 1604 The CRAB NEBULA consists of material ejected by the supernova of 1054 Such materials known as supernova remnants are common in the heavens The supernovas observed in modern times have all occurred in other galaxies the most distant yet having been detected in 1988 in a galaxy 5 billion light-years away The most interesting supernova of recent times was detected in the relatively nearby Large MAGELLANIC CLOUD on Feb 23 1987 by an astronomer at Chiles Las Campanas Observatory It quickly became an object of intense study by all the means available to modern astronomy A supernova may radiate more energy in a few days than the Sun does in 100 million years and the energy expended in ejecting material is much greater even than this In many cases including the Crab nebula supernova the stellar remnant left behind after the explosion is a NEUTRON STAR--a star only a few kilometers in diameter having an enormously large density and consisting mainly of neutrons--or a PULSAR a pulsating neutron star There are two common types of supernovas called type I and type II Type I occurs among old stars of small mass whereas type II occurs among very young stars of large mass It is not known how a small-mass star can release the very large amounts of energy needed to explain type I supernovas Scientists generally believe that this must involve binary systems--two stars revolving around each other In such a system one of the stars
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