Spectacular Star Death: A Supernova Quiz

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When a huge star dies, it goes out with a bang -- literally. This gigantic explosion, known as a supernova, is so powerful it can outshine an entire galaxy, and sometimes create a massive black hole. What causes these stars to detonate rather than fizzle?
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1.Whendoestheoldestrecordofasupernovadatefrom?
  • about 200 years ago
  • about 1,000 years ago
  • about 2,000 years ago
    Incorrect! Correct Answer: In 185 A.D., Chinese astronomers noticed a bright "new" star in the night sky that faded from view eight months later. It was the light of the first recorded supernova, which they wrote about in an historic tome.
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2.Supernovaearedyingstars,sowhydoespartoftheirname("nova")mean"new"?
  • They create new elements when they explode.
  • They appear as new points of light among previously mapped stars.
    Incorrect! Correct Answer: Supernovae appear in the sky suddenly and brightly, sometimes in places where no star was observed before, creating the appearance of being something new.
  • They move from old galaxies to new galaxies.
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3.Whatisoneoftheprimaryvisualdifferencesbetweenasupernovaandastar?
  • A supernova is millions of light-years away.
  • A supernova has a slightly different color.
    Incorrect! Correct Answer: Unlike stars, which give off a red light, supernovae shine with a blue hue.
  • If a supernova is close enough to Earth, it can be viewed through a high-powered telescope.
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4.WhatistheChandrasekharlimit?
  • a way to measure the distance of light in space
  • the amount of time astronomers can peer through a telescope each day without getting a headache
  • a measurement of a star's mass before going supernova
    Incorrect! Correct Answer: Discovered by astrophysicist Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar in 1930, the Chandrasekhar limit refers to the hypothetical maximum size a white dwarf star will reach -- 1.4 solar masses -- before exploding as a supernova.
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5.Whatisasolarmass?
  • a very hot, cylindrical collection of matter
  • a measurement astronomers use to gauge a star's size
    Incorrect! Correct Answer: Scientists and astronomers use the term "solar mass" to gauge how large objects are in the universe by comparing them to the Earth's sun, which equals one solar mass.
  • a type of solar flare
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6.Whatmakesastarshine?
  • solar glitter
  • gravity bends light around them
  • the fusion of hydrogen in the star's inner core
    Incorrect! Correct Answer: A star shines because of the nuclear fusion process in its inner core that converts hydrogen into helium, releasing energy and light.
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7.Whatisthedifferencebetweenanovaandasupernova?
  • A nova star doesn't self-destruct, but a supernova star does.
    Incorrect! Correct Answer: A nova occurs when a star suddenly becomes larger and brighter because its gravitational force pulls matters from a nearby star. The same thing happens before a Type I supernova occurs, with one important difference: A pre-supernova star will merge with a nearby star and become so massive that it collapses under its own weight and then explodes.
  • A nova is a new star that explodes.
  • A nova is a small star.
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8.WhatwasthemostrecentsupernovatobecomevisiblefromEarth?
  • a supernova discovered by ancienct Chinese astronomers in 185 A.D.
  • a supernova known as AT118k discovered in 1985
  • a supernova known as PTF11kly discovered in 2011
    Incorrect! Correct Answer: In September 2011, scientists found a supernova in the Pinwheel Galaxy that was so bright it could be seen from Earth on a clear night using binoculars. The light from this supernova that exploded 21 million years ago was located right above the handle of the Big Dipper.
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9.Howfarisonelight-year?
  • about 6 trillion miles (9 trillion kilometers)
    Incorrect! Correct Answer: A light-year is a way to measure distance throughout the universe; it is the distance that light can travel in one year. One light-year equals 5,865,696,000,000 miles (9,460,800,000,000 kilometers).
  • about 144 miles (232 kilometers)
  • about 10 million miles (16 million kilometers)
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10.WilltheEarth'ssuneverbecomeasupernova?
  • Yes, in 5 million years.
  • No.
    Incorrect! Correct Answer: Although sci-fi plots occasionally revolve around the sun's explosive demise, scientists insist it simply isn't large enough to explode as a supernova. It would need to be greater than 1.4 times the size it is now. Instead, they predict the sun will dim and then fizzle out in about 5 billion years.
  • Yes, and it's predicted to happen in the year 2027.
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11.Whowascreditedwithdiscovering--andrecordingprecisemeasurementsof--oneofthefirstknownsupernovae?
  • Tycho Brahe
    Incorrect! Correct Answer: In 1572, Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe noticed a star suddenly appear and then fade. He didn't know it then, but it was actually the light of a supernova. Brahe's measurements were so precise that modern astronomers still rely on them to locate this dying star.
  • Albert Einstein
  • Galileo Galilei
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12.Whatistheageoftheyoungestastronomerknowntohavefoundapreviouslyundiscoveredsupernova?
  • 15 years
  • 22 years
  • 10 years
    Incorrect! Correct Answer: In January 2011, a 10-year-old girl in Canada identified a previously unrecorded supernova in a galaxy 240 million light-years away.
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13.Hasasupernovaeverbeennicknamedafterasong?
  • Not yet.
  • Yes.
    Incorrect! Correct Answer: Supernovae are cataloged using a combination of numbers and letters. However, one recent supernova's size so exceeded astronomers' expectations that it gave them reason to celebrate. They nicknamed it after '90s Britpop tune "Champagne Supernova," by Oasis.
  • Astronomers wouldn't do that. They prefer to nickname supernovae after literary tomes.
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14.Howbigdoesastarthatgoessupernovaneedtobetocreateablackhole?
  • half the size of our sun
  • equal to the size of our sun
  • three times (or more) the size of our sun
    Incorrect! Correct Answer: When a star that equals three or more solar masses, it can create a black hole when it explodes. The gravitational pull of a black hole is so extreme that nothing -- not even light -- can escape from its clutches.
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15.Whatarethethreestagesofastar'slifecycle?
  • birth, maturity and death
    Incorrect! Correct Answer: Like humans, stars are born, grow and mature, and then die. However, this process can take billions of years for a star -- and, if the star is large enough, it will end in a fiery blaze known as a supernova.
  • birth, death and unlife (zombie stars)
  • Stars are static; they never change.
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16.HowclosewouldasupernovahavetobetoEarthtocausetheendoflifeasweknowit?
  • more than 50 million light-years away
  • about 100 million light-years away
  • less than 25 million light-years away
    Incorrect! Correct Answer: Any supernova that exploded within 25 million light-years of the Earth would have a catastrophic effect because it would damage our planet's ozone and allow deadly doses of UV radiation to reach humans, plants and animals.
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17.Howbigwasthelargestsupernovaeverrecorded?
  • 100 solar masses
  • 50 solar masses
    Incorrect! Correct Answer: In 2009, scientists were tracking a supersized star when it went supernova. They were able to view -- and document -- the largest supernova ever recorded as the star exploded. It was 50 times the size of the Earth's sun and left a massive black hole in its wake.
  • 500 solar masses
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18.Howlongdoesittakeasupernovatoexplode?
  • 1 second
    Incorrect! Correct Answer: Although it only takes less than a second for a supernova to explode, the light from this explosion will travel through the universe for millions of years. From Earth, we can still see the light of supernovae that exploded tens of millions of years ago.
  • 1 days
  • 1 year
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19.HowoftendoscientistspredictthatsupernovaeshouldhappenintheMilkyWay?
  • once every 200 years
  • once a year
  • twice a century
    Incorrect! Correct Answer: Scientists theorize that two stars within a galaxy the size of the Milky Way should go supernova every century. So far, however, supernovae have happened once every 200 years or so in the Milky Way.
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20.Canastronomersseeeverysupernovaintheuniverse?
  • No.
    Incorrect! Correct Answer: Although scientists and amateur astronomers around the world discover dozens of new supernovae each year throughout the universe, they suspect there are dozens more that they aren't able to view. Dust clouds and other interstellar debris often block our line of sight, even within the Milky Way.
  • Of course. They're always tracking the life cycle of stars.
  • Yes, as long as they don't blink.
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