During the lifetime of our Milky Way galaxy, there have been something like 100 million supernova explosions, which have enriched the Galaxy with the oxygen we breathe, the iron in our cars, the calcium in our bones and the silicon in the rocks beneath our feet. These exploding stars also influence the birth of new stars and are the source of the energetic cosmic rays that irradiate us on the Earth. The prodigious amount of energy (~1051, or ~2.5 x 1028 megatonnes of TNT equivalent) and momentum associated with each supernova may even have helped to shape galaxies as they formed in the early Universe. Supernovae are now being used to measure the geometry of the Universe, and have recently been implicated in the decades-old mystery of the origin of the γ-ray bursts. Together with major conceptual advances in our theoretical understanding of supernovae, these developments have made supernovae the centre of attention in astrophysics.
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