Supernova School

Today, Dr. Brian Cox came in to talk to the actors about the Universe. He started out with the Carl Sagan-esque question ‘What are we made of?’, went on to speak about the elements and explained how Iron, atomic number 26, is the heaviest element which can be made in the heart of stars. Everything in you- the oxygen, the carbon, the iron which makes your blood red- was made in the heart of a star.

Any element that is heavier than Iron and lighter than Uranium- silver and gold, for example- can only be made in Supernovae, the violently explosive death of a star. He told them how a supernova shines as brightly as all the stars in the galaxy for several months then slowly fades, cools, and becomes a nebula which in turn gives birth to a new star…

Several supernova explosions have been seen over the years. One of the earliest on record is the Crab Nebula.

The ancient Chinese, Japanese and the Anasazi (the Ancient Puebloans) of America left records documenting their sighting of the star that died in a supernova explosion and created the Crab Nebula.


Though it was 6000 light years away from Earth, when it exploded it shone in our sky as brightly as the crescent Moon.

Betelgeuse in the constellation Orion is about to die. It is a red supergiant which many astronomers believe will go supernova within the next 1,000 years. It could go tomorrow. Though Betelgeuse is only 15 times more massive than our Sun, it is as much as 40 million times greater in volume; that means if our Sun was a soccer ball, Betelgeuse would be Wembley Stadium in London. Betelgeuse is only 500 light years away from Earth. As a supernova shines as brightly as all the stars in the galaxy for several months after it explodes, when Betelgeuse goes, we will have two suns for a few months.

I think the actors’ minds were blown… let’s just hope there’s enough left for them to remember their lines.

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