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A nova is a star that suddenly brightens to many times the magnitude that it formerly was in a short period of time.
The crew of the USS Enterprise-D determined that the star in orbit around Kataan went nova approximately 1,000 years previously while Captain Jean-Luc Picard was under the influence of a Kataanian probe. When the star went nova, it destroyed all life on Kataan. (TNG: "The Inner Light")