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Updated: September 20, 2010 20:22 IST

3-D computer simulations help shed light on supernovae explosions

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The NASA image of a supernova captured by Hubble. File photo
AP The NASA image of a supernova captured by Hubble. File photo

Scientists have found a novel way to make three dimensional computer simulations of supernovae explosions that may help in understanding these explosions better.

Princeton-led team used powerful supercomputers to employ a representation in three dimensions that allowed the various multidimensional instabilities to be expressed.

Even though these mammoth explosions have been observed for thousands of years, for the past 50 years researchers have struggled to mimic the step-by-step destructive action on computers. Researchers argue that such simulations, even crude ones, are important, as they can lead to new information about the universe and help address this longstanding problem in astrophysics.

The new 3-D simulations are based on the idea that the collapsing star itself is not sphere-like, but distinctly asymmetrical and affected by a host of instabilities in the volatile mix surrounding its core.

“I think this is a big jump in our understanding of how these things can explode. In principle, if you could go inside the supernovae to their centers, this is what you might see,” said Adam Burrows, lead researcher of the study.

In the past, simulated explosions represented in one and two dimensions often stalled, leading scientists to conclude that their understanding of the physics was incorrect or incomplete.

“It may well prove to be the case that the fundamental impediment to progress in supernova theory over the last few decades has not been lack of physical detail, but lack of access to codes and computers with which to properly simulate the collapse phenomenon in 3-D,” the team wrote.

To do their work, Burrows and his colleagues came up with mathematical values representing the energetic behaviours of stars by using mathematical representations of fluids in motion-the same partial differential equations solved by geophysicists for climate modelling and weather forecasting.

To solve these complex equations and simulate what happens inside a dying star, the team used an advanced computer code called CASTRO that took into account factors that changed over time, including fluid density, temperature, pressure, gravitational acceleration and velocity.

The calculations took months to process on supercomputers at Princeton and the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory.

The findings were published in the Astrophysical Journal.

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