Here's how to show how shocks produced during supernova explosions

speed up through the collapsed star and eject material at its surface.

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Possible Incorporated Topics:
  • conservation of energy
  • conservation of momentum
  • shock waves


A supernova is the violent end to the life of a very massive star. Once the star exhausts all of its fuel through nuclear reactions in the core, there is no longer a mechanism keeping the star from imploding in on itself in a gravitational collapse. The collapse produces a shock wave which propogates from the star's center to it's outer layers in an aggressive explosion, responsible for enriching the interstellar medium with heavy elements that cannot be produced elsewhere. 

This implosion can be happen in less than a second and causes a shock wave to propogate from the center of the collapsing star into the outer, less dense collapsing layers. As the shock reaches less dense layers, it speeds up due to conservation of momentum. When the shock reaches the thin, outermost layer, it accelerates this layer out into space at relativisitic speeds.

In the AstroBlaster demonstration, the gravitational collapse of the supernova is modeled by dropping the apparatus to the floor. The shock is demonstrated by the sequential balls gaining speed until the top, lightest ball is free to escape with the highest speed, similar to the topmost thin layer of a collapsing star.

  • AstroBlaster (4 rubber balls of different sizes, rod)

  • Safety Goggles

  • Put on supplied safety goggles
  • Put each of the rubber balls onto the AstroBlaster rod, with the largest on first, decreasing in size and ending with one of the small red balls.
  • Hang onto the tip of the AstroBlaster rod and hold the apparatus at an arm's length away from your body.
  • Ensure the AstroBlaser is hanging straight down and release it.


  • The smallest AstroBlaster ball can reach heights of over 5 times the drop height. Be sure to wear the safety goggles supplied and remove any breakable items from the area. Watch out for the rebounding ball if using the AstroBlaster in an enclosed space!

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