Simulating supernovae

Lasers would be used to simulate explosions of old stars

Published: Thursday 31 July 1997

cosmology and astrophysics are two sciences where the scientist has to be content with mere observation, since the researcher has no control over the experimental arena. But recent work in various laboratories has provided astrophysicists with a unique opportunity to study and 'control' one of the most spectacular events in the cosmos: the explosion of a supernova.

Scientists at the Livermore National Laboratory are now using the most powerful of lasers to simulate a supernova explosion, thus providing astrophysicists with a unique opportunity to test their models. Though the idea of using lasers to simulate a supernova explosion has been around for almost a decade, B Remington and his team at Livermore have revived the proposal. The idea is to mimic the conditions which are prevalent in a star when it is exploding as a supernova.

Supernovae are spectacular explosions of old stars when their cores cannot support the gravity of the outer regions. The result is that there is an implosion; the core collapses and rebounds. The shock wave thus generated throws out most of the matter of the star into space in an explosion. The amount of energy emitted by the star into space in a few days is almost equal to that of a galaxy.

One such supernova explosion took place a decade ago in a nearby galaxy, the Large Magellanic Cloud. This event, sn 1987- a , provided scientists with their most comprehensive study of these explosions.

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