Cosmic Explosions

Over the last years and decades, large surveys and new observatories have enabled an exquisite view onto the time-variable night sky. A plethora of transients has been discovered, for example supernovae, hypernovae, gamma-ray bursts, merging compact objects and the enigmatic fast radio bursts. Multi-messenger astronomy allows us to observe transients in the 'usual' electromagnetic light (e.g. optical, X-ray and radio), but also in neutrinos and gravitational waves. All transients are related to fascinating physics and, in this seminar, we will try to get an overview of the large zoo of explosive phenomena and what they can tell us about the Universe we live in.

This is a graded "Masterpflichtseminar" (MVSem) aimed at master students. Students will pick a topic from the below list (or suggest another adequate topic) and present it in a talk. An additional written report about the presentation is required. In the first session, a brief introduction to the various topics is given, and dates for the student presentations and topics are chosen.

Lecturer: Dr. Fabian Schneider

When and where? Summersemester 2020, Fridays, 9:15-11:00 online via Zoom as long as the Corona lock-down persists and the University is closed; depending on the situation, we may be able to return to the seminar room (1st floor) at ARI at a later time. For the Zoom Meeting ID and password, you should have received an email. If not, please contact me.

Registration: via the Physics Uebungssystem

Organisation and further information

  • Final grade: 50% talk, 50% report
  • Talk: 30min + 15min discussion/feedback; you should know how to give a good and effective talk from your bachelor studies, so make use of this; be reminded that your fellow students need to be able to understand what you are talking about such that they can engage in the final discussion; please send me a PDF version of your talk before your presentation such that I can upload it to the Uebungssystem
  • Report: ~10 pages, detailing the talk, explaining the topic; not just a pure summary of the talk, but also explain the topic choices, the literature used, why presented in the way you did, why did you decide to skip certain topics etc.; report due 1 week after your oral presentation
  • Active participation required (not just attendance!)
  • Meet with supervisor before your talk to discuss the topic and your talk structure; meet latest 1 week before your talk such that you can implement new suggestions (better: 2 weeks before talk); make an appointment!
  • Paper/journal access: We suggest using The SAO/NASA Astrophysics Data System (see also the links provided below). Most published papers are also available on the arXiv preprint server if you cannot access the published paper version via the journal homepage. From within the University network, you should have access to most journals via the University's library. From home, you can use your student ID and a VPN client to log into the University network and then access journals (see Alternatively, you can use the HEIDI catalogue at If you can still not access a resource, just let me know and I will do my best to help you.


Date Presentation 1 Presentation 2
24.04. Schneider: Introduction; date and topic assignments
01.05. Public holiday (Tag der Arbeit)
22.05. Niedeggen: Type Ia supernovae
29.05. Kuhn: Kilonovae and r-process
05.06. Traenkle: Compact-object mergers and gravitational-wave astronomy
12.06. Neumann: Pair-instability supernovae
19.06. Piotter: Soft-gamma repeater
26.06. NA NA
10.07. Temaj: Core-collapse supernovae Tschesche: Luminous-blue variables and supernova impostors
17.07. Walberg: Electron-capture supernovae
31.07. Exam week?


Below is a list of interesting transients in alphabetical order:

Anti-transient: disappearing red-supergiant stars

Classical and recurrent novae

Compact-object mergers and gravitational-wave astronomy

Core-collapse supernovae

Electron-capture supernovae

Gamma-ray bursts

  • Discovery paper from Vela satellites after declassification of detections: Klebesadel et al. 1973
  • General overview of both short- and long-duration gamma-ray bursts: Levan et al. 2016
  • Short-duration gamma-ray bursts: review by Berger 2014; final confirmation as NS+NS merger via simultaneous gravitational-wave signal and gamma-ray burst detection Abbott et al. 2017; corresponding optical transients are also known as kilonovae (see below)
  • Long-duration gamma-ray bursts and the collapsar model: Woosley 1993

Fast-radio bursts

Kilonovae and r-process

Luminous-blue variables and supernova impostors

Luminous-red novae or gap transients

Pair-instability supernovae

Soft-gamma repeater

Superluminous supernovae and hypernovae

Tidal-disruption events

  • Classic paper by Lord Martin Rees on tidal disruption of stars by a supermassive black-hole: Rees 1988
  • Latest observational results from the ZTF transient factory: van Velzen et al. 2020
  • First paper in a series of modern models of tidal-disruption events: Ryu et al. 2020

Type Ia supernovae

Z aka the end of the list

Are you missing a topic?

  • Feel free to suggest one and we can most likely make it happen!
  • Or maybe you recently found an interesting paper on some transients or explosive phenomena? Again, it may well fit into this seminar!