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Exploring the Universe using exploding stars

RAS public lecture, 9 December 2014

by by Dr Stacey Habergham, Liverpool John Moores University

Massive stars, at least eight times the mass of the Sun, lead very short lives which come to a dramatic end in a huge explosion, a supernova. Supernovae are amongst the most violent, energetic, and beautiful events in the Universe, and themselves represent physics at the extremes, the like of which could never be recreated here on Earth. Although these events are rare, they have shaped the Universe we live in – creating most of the elements of which we, the planets, and all current stars are made of. They can, however, also help us to probe star formation in the Universe by utilising their short lifetimes, and the immense brightness of each explosion, leading us back in time to galaxies more and more distant. The talk specifically looks at the role of supernovae in helping to probe the differences in star formation within normal spiral galaxies, like the Milky Way, and colliding galaxy systems, like the Antennae galaxy, by analysing over 400 galaxies in the local Universe containing these explosions. Can this tell us anything about the way galaxies form and evolve and can the galaxy help us to understand the stars' lives prior to explosion?

Note: due to technical issues during recording, the first ten minutes is missing footage of the slides.