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Scientists Use Supercomputers To Explode Stars

Scientists hope to use the information to learn more about dark energy, a force believed to be pushing apart the cosmos and accounting for two-thirds of the energy in the universe.

K.C. Jones

March 23, 2007

2 Min Read

Scientists have broken new research ground by blowing up a white dwarf star in a three-dimensional simulation that is expected to improve our understanding of galaxies.

"Nobody has been able to simulate a white dwarf blowing up before without cheating: inserting some data into the process," said Stephen Libby, a physicist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. "But what they've succeeded in doing here is a simulation without cheating."

Using the National Nuclear Security Administration's Advanced Simulation and Computing program and the Department of Energy's Office of Science and Innovation's Novel Computation Impact on Theory and Experiment program, researchers found a mechanism to make a full three-dimensional detonation, Libby said.

"This is a remarkable achievement," he added. "The amount of work was huge and required multiple disciplines. Making these simulations run efficiently for weeks was a tour de force."

Scientists at the University of Chicago's Center for Astrophysical Thermonuclear Flashes worked with DOE scientists and used high performance computers from Livermore and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories to understand how a type 1a supernova explodes. They hope to use the information to learn more about dark energy, a force believed to be pushing apart the cosmos and accounting for two-thirds of the energy in the universe. Type 1a supernovae function as "candles" that can be standardized and studied to help determine the distance and acceleration of faraway galaxies.

Supernovae help scientists understand the physics of thermonuclear burn, which in turn is used to improve the safety, security, and reliability of nuclear stockpiles without underground nuclear testing. Stockpile Stewardship, or massive integrated computer simulation and surrogate experiments, replaced nuclear testing, which ended in 1992.

The simulation, announced at the "Paths To Exploding Stars" conference in Santa Barbara on Thursday, has broad implications for the role of type 1a supernovae as distance markers for cosmology, Libby said.

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