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Public Outreach

From supernova to hypernova: understanding the diversity of cosmic explosions.


Professor Philipp Podsiadlowski

Department of Physics
University of Oxford


To the night time observer, the Universe appears like a peaceful, never changing place. But this impression is misleading: on larger scales and over longer periods of time, the Universe changes continuously, often in a violent manner. Some of the most dramatic transient events are supernovae that are generally connected with the death of massive stars. While these occur only about once every century in the Milky Way, somewhere in the Universe one of these will take place every few seconds. In this talk, I will first give an overview over the lifecycle of massive stars, starting with their birth in a molecular gas cloud, through their various nuclear burning phases to their final fate. I will then discuss some of the major types of supernova explosions. These include the enigmatic gamma-ray bursts that are associated with hypernovae, some of the most energetic explosions we know, that have puzzled astronomers for several decades, and so-called Type Ia supernovae that have led to the discovery of the acceleration of the Universe. I will end the talk by discussing the importance of supernovae for the general evolution of the Universe as well as the origin of life.


Prof. Philipp Podsiadlowski grew up in Germany, but left Germany after three years of study at the Technical University of Munich to start a PhD at the Massachusetts Institute ofnTechnology in Cambridge (USA). After graduating there in 1989, writing a thesis on "Binary Models for Supernova 1987A", he moved to Cambridge (UK) for 5 years, first as a SERC Fellow and later as a Royal Society Research Associate of Sir Martin Rees. After a year as a Royal Society Exchange Fellow at the Max-Planck-Institute for Astronomy in Munich, he became a SERC Advanced Fellow and Lecturer at the University of Oxford in 1996 where he has stayed ever since, becoming a Full Professor in 2006. Prof. Podsiadlowski is an expert on the theory of single and binary stars, in particular with applications to compact binary systems and the progenitors of different supernova types. He has been a regular visitor to the Mathematics Department at Monash University since 1994, working with Dr Rosemary Mardling on binary interactions and planet formation.