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Last updated on April 19, 2014 at 18:42 EDT

Hypernova

Hypernova — A hypernova is a theoretical type of supernova produced when exceptionally large stars collapse at the end of their lifespan.

In a hypernova, the core of the star collapses directly into a black hole and two extremely energetic jets of plasma are emitted from its rotational poles at nearly light speed. These jets emit intense gamma rays, and are a candidate explanation for gamma ray bursts.

Theorists have come up with several plausible explanations for hypernovae. It may be the explosion of a very massive star which has been spinning quickly or is bathed in a powerful magnetic field.

Another explanation is that one star in a stellar binary system collides with or merges with its partner. One thing seems clear, however, the result is the formation of a black hole and the release of an enormous amount of energy, primarily in the form of gamma-rays.

Gamma-rays are the most energetic form of light. They possess some 10,000 to 10 million times more energy than the light we see with our eyes.

Hypernovae may explain the mysterious phenomena known as gamma-ray bursts. Since their discovery in the 1960s, gamma-ray bursts (GRBs) have been determined to occur randomly in the sky, at random times. Once they fade, we never see a burst from that location again.

Bohdan Paczynski of Princeton University proposed in 1998 that hypernovae were a way to explain GRBs. However, little is currently known about the true nature of either hypernovae or GRBs.

“I suspect GRBs may well be the tip of an iceberg, as we have no clue why some explosions generate so much gamma-ray emission,” Paczynski said.

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NASA

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Hypernova