Star of Wonder

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By Roger Snodgrass

Stars don’t always die the same way, but now there is evidence that up to a point, the most massive stars may experience the most spectacular deaths. And there may even be one nearby.An international team of astrophysicists has come up with an explanation that posits a new mechanism to describe the brightest explosions.The research by Stan Woolsey of the University of California Santa Cruz; Sergei Blinnikov, a visiting researcher at UCSC from the Institute of Theoretical and Experimental Physics in Moscow; and Alexander Heger of Los Alamos National Laboratory was published in the Nov. 15 issue of the journal Nature.Their explanation emerged from a study of the earliest stars born out of the cosmic dark ages when very big stars were common.“Almost no two supernovae look identical,” Heger said. “But every once in awhile one looks much different than expected. It depends on the mechanisms by which they explode.”A superlative exception was the phenomenal supernova named SN 2006gy discovered by Robert Quinby, a University of Texas graduate student on Sept. 26, 2006.

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