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Nova vs. Supernova: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Janet White || Updated on October 12, 2023
A "Nova" is a star showing a sudden increase in brightness, while a "Supernova" is a stellar explosion causing a massive burst of energy, often outshining an entire galaxy.

Key Differences

In the expansive cosmos, both the terms Nova and Supernova describe celestial events involving stars, but they differ in intensity and cause. A Nova represents a star that suddenly increases in brightness due to an eruption on its surface, only to fade back to its original state over time. In contrast, a Supernova signifies a much more violent event – the explosion of a star, resulting in an enormous release of energy, sometimes obliterating the star entirely.
Diving deeper into the Nova phenomenon, it often involves a binary star system where one star, typically a white dwarf, pulls material from its companion star. As this material accumulates on the white dwarf's surface and reaches a critical mass, it ignites in a thermonuclear explosion, leading to the sudden brightness. This brightness, however, is transient. The Supernova, on the other hand, occurs at the end of a star's life cycle, either due to the collapse of its core or when it accumulates too much matter from a nearby star, resulting in a massive explosion.
The energy output between a Nova and Supernova is vast. While a Nova can cause the star to shine up to a million times brighter than before, a Supernova can outshine an entire galaxy and emit more energy in a few days than our Sun will in its entire lifetime.
In essence, while both Nova and Supernova are stellar events that result in increased brightness, they differ in cause, magnitude, and outcome. A Nova is a temporary flare-up, whereas a Supernova is a grand finale in a star's existence.

Comparison Chart


Eruption on a star's surface.
Massive stellar explosion at the end of its lifecycle.


Increases temporarily.
Can outshine an entire galaxy.


Temporary flare-up.
Final event in a star's life.

Energy Release

Less compared to Supernova.
Massive, sometimes more than a star's entire lifetime.


Often in binary star systems.
At the end of a star's life cycle or due to accumulation of matter.

Nova and Supernova Definitions


A transient astronomical event.
The Nova faded after a few weeks, returning the star to its normal state.


A massive stellar explosion.
The Supernova was so bright that it was visible during the day.


Brightness caused by an eruption.
A buildup of hydrogen caused the star to become a Nova.


Brightness exceeding an entire galaxy.
For a brief period, the Supernova outshone the entire Milky Way.


Part of a binary system's interaction.
The Nova was a result of the white dwarf pulling material from its companion star.


A celestial phenomenon emitting immense energy.
The energy from the Supernova was detected billions of miles away.


A star showing a sudden increase in brightness.
The recent Nova in the night sky drew the attention of astronomers.


End of a star's lifecycle event.
The star ended its life in a spectacular Supernova.


A temporary stellar outburst.
The light from the Nova was visible even with the naked eye.


Result of core collapse or excess matter.
The massive star underwent a Supernova after its core collapsed.


Salmon that has been lightly cured and smoked. Also called Nova lox.


A rare celestial phenomenon involving the explosion of a star and resulting in an extremely bright, short-lived object that emits vast amounts of energy. Depending on the type of supernova, the explosion may completely destroy the star, or the stellar core may survive to become a neutron star.


A star that suddenly increases in luminosity and then gradually returns to its original brightness over a period of weeks to years.


(star) The explosion of a star, which increases its absolute magnitude to typically a billion times that of our sun. Some leave only debris, while others fade to invisibility as neutron stars or black holes.


(astronomy) Any sudden brightening of a previously inconspicuous star.


(figurative) Something brilliant.


A star which suddenly increases in brightness thousands of times, then fades back to near its original intensity. It may appear as a "new" star if its original brightness was too low for routine observation. A star which suddenly increases in brightness to many millions of times its original intensity is a supernova, and the postulated mechanisms for the increases of brightness of novae and supernovae are different.


A star that explodes and becomes extremely luminous in the process


A star that ejects some of its material in the form of a cloud and become more luminous in the process


Can a Nova become a Supernova?

Not directly; while both involve increased brightness, their causes and intensities differ.

Is a Nova a dying star?

No, a Nova is a flare-up in brightness, while a Supernova represents the end of a star's life.

How often do Supernovae occur?

In our galaxy, Supernovae occur on average about once every 50 years.

Is a Nova the explosion of a star?

No, a Nova is a sudden increase in brightness, not a complete explosion like a Supernova.

Does every star become a Nova?

No, only certain stars, often in binary systems, exhibit Nova behavior.

Can we predict when a Supernova will occur?

While we understand the lifecycle of stars, predicting the exact timing of a Supernova is challenging.

Is a Nova just a small Supernova?

No, while both involve brightness changes, their causes, durations, and outcomes differ.

What remains after a Supernova?

It can leave behind a neutron star or black hole, depending on the star's initial mass.

Are Supernovae dangerous?

A Supernova close to Earth could be harmful, but such events are extremely rare.

Are Supernovae visible from Earth?

Yes, some Supernovae have been bright enough to be seen with the naked eye.

Is a Supernova the most powerful explosion in the universe?

While Supernovae are incredibly powerful, gamma-ray bursts are considered even more energetic.

How long does a Nova last?

A Nova's brightness typically lasts for a few days to weeks before fading.

Do all stars end their lives as Supernovae?

No, only massive stars go Supernova; others, like our Sun, will end as white dwarfs.

Can a Supernova's remnants cause a Nova?

The remnants, like white dwarfs, in binary systems can exhibit Nova behavior.

What's the difference between a Nova and a starburst?

A Nova is a transient brightness in a star, while a starburst refers to rapid star formation in galaxies.

How are Novae discovered?

They are often identified by astronomers noticing sudden changes in brightness.

How do Supernovae contribute to the universe?

Supernovae disperse elements into space, aiding in the formation of new stars and planets.

Can a star undergo multiple Nova events?

Yes, some stars can exhibit Nova behavior multiple times.

What causes the intense brightness of a Supernova?

The core collapse or accumulation of matter, resulting in a massive explosion.

Are Novae common in our galaxy?

Novae are relatively common, with several occurring in our galaxy each year.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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