According to current theory, two different mechanisms produce supernovae: First, stars considerably more massive than our Sun can most probably not evolve quitely into an end state as a white dwarf. When coming to age, these massive stars explode in a most violent detonation which flashes up at a luminosity of up to 10 billion times that of the sun, called supernova (of type II), and ejecting the very greatest part of the stellar matter in a violently expanding shell. Aternatively, infalling matter on a white dwarf star can cause it to explode as a supernova of type I.
Although the Crab nebula is the only Messier SNR, and one of few historical supernovae observed in our Milky Way galaxy, other supernovae have appeared in Messier galaxies (see our table), and produced SNRs. These special kind of nebulae can be observed in some cases, e.g. the remnant of the Supernova 1993J in M81.
The knowledge of the nature of the supernova phenomenon, and the name "supernova", goes back to Walter Baade and Fritz Zwicky, who studied Novae in the early 1930s at Mt. Wilson Observatory. They were especially interested, and successful, in finding extremely bright "novae" in other galaxies, comparable to the one which had been observed in the Andromeda Galaxy M31 in 1885 (S Andromedae). They coined the term "Super-Novae" in 1934.
Last Modification: 25 Jan 1998, 16:25 MET