Ideas originating in the three decades between the 1930-1960s led astronomers to believe that supernovae come from two channels. One is the core-collapse of massive stars and the other is the thermonuclear explosions of white dwarfs. We have research programmes in both observational and theoretical studies of core-collapse and type Ia supernovae.
Massive stars have luminosities typically 1000 to 10000 times that of the sun and consequently burn their nuclear fuel very quickly. This leads to them having relatively short lifetimes (typically a few million years up to 40 million years) at the end of which they develop an iron core, collapse and explode as spectacular supernovae. There is a vast diversity in supernovae types, and theories of the explosions predict that these are related to the type of star that from which they originated. Understanding the evolution of massive stars and their deaths as supernovae are major research themes at Queen's. Stephen Smartt, Rubina Kotak and Bernhard Mueller work on understanding massive star evolution and how supernovae are produced from massive stars.
Stuart Sim and Kate Maguire lead our work on type Ia explosions. Stuart works on radiative transfer and theoretical modelling of type Ia supernovae. He runs sophisticated physical models which predict the spectra of thermonuclear spectra based on explosion simulations of white dwarfs. Kate runs large observational projects mostly at ESO to map the lightcurves and and spectra of normal and unusual thermonuclear explosions. The goal of this work is to determine the progenitor star systems of these cosmologically important explosions.
Stephen Smartt holds an ERC Advanced Grant and Rubina Kotak, Stuart Sim and Stephen Smartt hold significant STFC funding. Kate Maguire holds a 5-year STFC Ernest Rutherford fellowship. Our two major observational international projects are based on the Pan-STARRS-1 Science Consortium and PESSTO.