A Tale of Four Supernovas

Explosions are always messy, and this is especially true when combustion occurs on a cosmic scale.

In space, small, dead stars called white dwarfs occasionally blow themselves to smithereens, producing enough light to drown out entire galaxies. Astronomers use these explosions – called type 1a supernovas – to calculate cosmic distances. In the late 1990s, observations based on type 1a supernovas revealed that the universe is flying apart faster and faster as time goes on. The force behind this acceleration, called dark energy, is still enigmatic, but the discovery earned a Nobel Prize in 2011 and is considered one of the most fundamental in cosmology.

Yet despite their role ...

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