supernova, a massive star in the latter stages of stellar evolution that suddenly contracts and then explodes, increasing its energy output as much as a billionfold. Supernovas are the principal distributors of heavy elements throughout the universe; all elements heavier than iron are produced in supernovas. Supernovas also are the principal heat source for interstellar matter and may be a source of cosmic rays. Recent discoveries have confirmed an underlying connection between supernovas and gamma-ray bursts (GRBs). Both are associated with the deaths of massive stars and they often happen nearly simultaneously. There is no generally agreed upon model for how a massive star explodes. However, the association with gamma rays has renewed interest in the role played by stellar rotation and magnetic fields.
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