Is it hypothetically possible to make a sun go nova or supernova?

Answer by Thaddeus Howze:

Yes. Throw another star at it.

Eta Carinae Supernova

No, I was not being facetious. The scale we are talking about when you are dealing with stars is huge. Almost too large to wrap one's mind around unless you are an astronomer or some other form of science/cosmology type. Watch this video on stars and their sizes first, just so you can get some idea, however limited, of just how large stars can be.

The Physics of Stars

Now that you have seen how large stars can be, understand that making one go supernova is very challenging because it isn't just size you have to contend with, its mass. This is a very simplified explanation of how stars function, so we can get on with trying to blow them up.

A Hertzsprung-Russell diagram showing the types of stars, their sizes, their relative distribution in the universe, their type and designation and their temperature, from lowest in the right corner to highest in the upper left. Blue and blue white stars are the hottest and red stars are the coolest.

The stars which appear above the middle band are stars with greater sizes, and are called giants or super-giants. They usually have greater masses than stars in or below the central band. Stars below it are usually classified as dwarf stars.

It is the high mass stars above the central band we are interested in looking at because they're the most likely candidates for becoming supernovas.

A supernova is a stellar explosion that briefly outshines an entire galaxy, radiating as much energy as the Sun or any ordinary star is expected to emit over its entire life span, before fading from view over several weeks or months. The extremely luminous burst of radiation expels much or all of a star's material at a velocity of up to 30,000 km/s (10% of the speed of light), driving a shock wave into the surrounding interstellar medium. This shock wave sweeps up an expanding shell of gas and dust called a supernova remnant. Supernovae are potentially strong galactic sources of gravitational waves. A great proportion of primary cosmic rays comes from supernovae.

Not every star will go supernova. Only a certain type of star, one whose mass is equal to four or more of our relatively puny and stable star.

When you have a star with the right mass and it is at the right age, you can sit back and watch the show as the stars nuclear engine sputters and dies explosively.

To keep this simple, a star is a giant fusion reactor. Matter is being compressed in the center turning it from hydrogen to helium, with the byproduct of said fusion becoming an explosion of radioactive energy.

Think of a star as a never-ending party of nuclear explosions.

But a star is also a collection of matter. The more matter you pack into a place, the denser it becomes. Hydrogen is a gas, the lightest in the universe, but if pack enough of it in one place, it will begin to have a gravitational effect, and it is the pressure of said gravity pressing all of those hydrogen atoms down which causes the fusion eruption of energy.

Stars are a like a passengers on a Japanese supertrain. Squeezing as many atoms as they can into a very finite space.

It is the interaction of these two forces, the squeezing of atoms and the explosion of fusion which makes the beautiful round shapes of stars. When these forces are in equilibrium, a star is born and will burn as long as there is fuel to convert into energy.

This is a very simplified explanation. I am certain some cosmologist or physicist is having a seizure right now. Please don't flame me…

The problem comes when stars are super-massive. The more massive a star, the faster it converts its fuel. Stars which are super-large and super-massive often glow incredibly brightly and like a V-8 engine use up fuel like its free.

Red stars are slow burners, living for billions of years because they use of their fuel so slowly. Blue-White supergiant stars due to their immense mass may live brief lives as short as 500 million years (for a star, this is the equivalent of living fast, dying young and leaving a messy corpse).

A large blue-giant is likely a candidate for supernova martyrdom. It is from first generation stars like these that second generation stars like our sun are formed. We exist because of first generation stars that go out like this.

Now remember when I said a star exists because of two forces, the explosion which keeps the star glowing and the compression of gravity which keeps the star's gases in one place.

A supernova occurs when a star starts running out of fuel to convert into the next element on the periodic table. Hydrogen becomes Helium, Helium becomes Lithium, and each conversion of elements costs more energy and is less effective. This means the stars output begins to diminish and the crushing forces of gravity become more crushing. Which then causes the star to work harder to convert fuels, which makes the star run out of fuel faster.

A negative feedback loop is now in progress.

When the star can no longer easily convert its remaining fuels and produce energy, the end is near. The crushing gravity is slowly overwhelming the energy output.

Supernovae can be triggered in one of two ways: by the sudden re-ignition of nuclear fusion in a degenerate star; or by the gravitational collapse of the core of a massive star. In the first case, a degenerate white dwarf may accumulate sufficient material from a companion, either through accretion or via a merger, to raise its core temperature, ignite carbon fusion, and trigger runaway nuclear fusion, completely disrupting the star. In the second case, the core of a massive star may undergo sudden gravitational collapse, releasing gravitational potential energy that can create a supernova explosion.

There comes the day when the star is no longer able to convert energy and it collapses, all of its mass into a single space. However this compression of matter restarts the fusion process one more time in an event called runaway nuclear fusion.

This time sudden gravitational collapse can release this potential in a cataclysm of energy, thousands of times as great as anything the star may have done in its entire existence. Converting matter across the periodic table, indeed it is this explosion of energy, which is responsible for the heavier elements on the periodic table which make up life as we know it.

What we are as living beings, our chemical makeup, is the result of the violent supernova death of stars. Every element heavier than iron which is inside of us came from a star which died in an explosion whose energies are nearly immeasurable and able to be seen across vast distances.

A few were so bright they could be seen during the day!

The magnificent Crab Nebula, seen in 1054 on Earth and recorded by Chinese astronomers.

In 1913, when Vesto Slipher registered his spectroscopy study of the sky, the Crab nebula was again one of the first objects to be studied. In the early twentieth century, the analysis of early photographs of the nebula taken several years apart revealed that it was expanding. Tracing the expansion back revealed that the nebula must have become visible on Earth about 900 years ago. Historical records revealed that a new star bright enough to be seen in the daytime had been recorded in the same part of the sky by Chinese astronomers in 1054.

Supernova generate a variety of energies in different wavelengths, each giving information about the former star and its makeup.

Could you make a star explode artificially?

Having explained the physics of supernovas we can address the question. Would it be possible to artificially induce a star to supernova?

Here are my possible scenarios:

  1. Stars with masses greater than four or more solar masses have any shot at becoming a supernova. If I was able to move a smaller star and have it directed toward a star with the right mass, I could force the larger star into supernova by making its mass exceed its ability to fuse properly. This would probably only work on stars which were already nearing a point in their lifespan where they were already unstable anyway.
  2. Someone suggested a dumping a massive planetary gas giant into a star, but most gas giants, even the ones whose mass makes them almost able to become stars themselves are generally still not massive enough to make a difference in tipping a nearly nova-ready star into overdrive. You would need hundreds of said gas giants to do the deed.
  3. Or I could take a small star whose mass is right but for some reason has not quite made the leap to supernova and introduce it to another star whose mass is less and draw mass from the larger star to the smaller degenerate white dwarf and may accumulate sufficient material from a companion, either through accretion or via a merger, to raise its core temperature, ignite carbon fusion, and trigger runaway nuclear fusion, completely disrupting the star.

How about artificial supergravity?

  • If someone were able to increase the gravitation constant of the star, it might cause the star to burn its fuel faster and thus expediting the collapse of a suitably massive star.
  • This might be a viable alternative but the gravity required and the technology necessary to do this would be better served by pointing it at an enemy planet or approaching fleet and making them crash into each other or collapsing the tectonic plates of a geologically-active planet causing earthquakes, tidal waves and other forms of crust-related destruction.
  • If you could move stars or create significant artificial gravity enough to weaponize it, then you are probably capable of creating black holes in which case, people should have the good sense enough to stay on your species good side, assuming you have one.

As for Andromeda's Nova bomb or other forms of matter (or gravity manipulation) causing a star to go nova, we would have to be talking about really exotic forms of matter or energy, so different from anything we know today, they would fall into the realm of science fiction. Stargate's Zero-point energy as well as their interplanetary wormhole gate network certainly qualify. Stellar Explosion – Science Documentary 2015 HD

Interactive: Hertzsprung-Russell Diagram Explorer – Hertzsprung-Russell Diagram – NAAP

Is it hypothetically possible to make a sun go nova or supernova?


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