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Lab Flames Help to Explain Type Ia Supernovae


Epoch Times Staff
Created: November 23, 2011 Last Updated: November 23, 2011
Related articles: Science » Space & Astronomy
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RCW 86 was a Type Ia supernova, in which an otherwise-stable white dwarf, or dead star, was pushed beyond the brink of stability when a companion star dumped material onto it. (NASA/ESA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/CXC/SAO)

RCW 86 was a Type Ia supernova, in which an otherwise-stable white dwarf, or dead star, was pushed beyond the brink of stability when a companion star dumped material onto it. (NASA/ESA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/CXC/SAO)

The extremely bright supernovae that result when white dwarf stars explode are used as standard candles to calculate cosmic distances, and may actually behave like small flames too.

Known as Type Ia supernovae, these massive explosions result when sun-like stars accumulate so much mass from their companion stars that they blow up brightly, temporarily outshining other stars in their galaxies.

A team of U.S. astronomers performed three-dimensional calculations of the turbulence that a slow-burning flame is thought to undergo when it exceeds its limits to form a rapid detonation called the deflagration-to-detonation transition (DDT).

“Turbulence properties inferred from these simulations provide insight into the DDT process, if it occurs,” said researcher Aaron Jackson, of the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C., in a press release.

Many astrophysicists believe that DDT occurs when turbulence is sufficiently intense. According to the team’s simulations, DDT is likely with extreme turbulence. By matching simulations to known supernovae, the conditions needed for DDT can be identified.

“There are a few options for how to simulate how [supernovae] might work, each of which has different advantages and disadvantages,” said researcher Dean Townsley from the University of Alabama in the release.

“Our goal is to provide a more realistic simulation of how a given supernova scenario will perform, but that is a long-term goal and involves many different improvements that are still in progress.”

Understanding the explosion mechanism better may yield more precise distance estimates when using Type Ia supernovae as standard candles.

The team discussed their findings at the American Physical Society’s (APS) Division of Fluid Dynamics (DFD) meeting in Baltimore on Nov. 20-22.

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