Headlines > News > University of Toronto physicists create supernova in a jar

University of Toronto physicists create supernova in a jar

Published by Matt on Fri Dec 3, 2010 11:02 am via: University of Toronto
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A team of physicists from the University of Toronto and Rutgers University have mimicked the explosion of a supernova in miniature.

This montage shows the effect of changing glycerine concentration and hence viscosity. The process is analogous to the nuclear deflagration leading to the detonation of a type Ia supernova. Credit: University of Toronto

This montage shows the effect of changing glycerine concentration and hence viscosity. The process is analogous to the nuclear deflagration leading to the detonation of a type Ia supernova. Credit: University of Toronto

A supernova is an exploding star. In a certain type of supernova, the detonation starts with a flame ball buried deep inside a white dwarf. The flame ball is much lighter than its surroundings, so it rises rapidly making a plume topped with an accelerating smoke ring.

“We created a smaller version of this process by triggering a special chemical reaction in a closed container that generates similar plumes and vortex rings,” says Stephen Morris, a University of Toronto physics professor.

Autocatalytic chemical reactions release heat and change the composition of a solution, which can create buoyancy forces that can stir the liquid, leading to more reaction and a runaway explosive process. “A supernova is a dramatic example of this kind of self-sustaining explosion in which gravity and buoyancy forces are important effects. We wanted to see what the liquid motion would look like in such a self-stirred chemical reaction,” says Michael Rogers, who led the experiment as part of his PhD research, under the supervision of Morris.

“It is extremely difficult to observe the inside of a real exploding star light years away so this experiment is an important window into the complex fluid motions that accompany such an event,” Morris explains. “The study of such explosions in stars is crucial to understanding the size and evolution of the universe.”

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