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Realistic Supernovas thanks to Simulation Runs

It is always pleasant when a research simulation unveils data that can be used in all sorts of other simulations – in addition to it's expected result. A new simulation by researchers at the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya. BarcelonaTech (UPC) have done just that.

Their study has shown how the mixing of different elements occurs within a nova explosion – the death of a star – which in turn explains why the rings formed are not uniform in nature. Further, their work has enabled for the first time, the ability to simulate a nova, and characterise the physical properties and chemical composition of the material ejected finely enough that you could explore a virtual nova and analyse why it formed in the shape it did – or shape one as a realistic expansion in your virtual sky.

Their paper was published in the journal Nature, and is concerned primarily with how the irregular distribution of nova adds to the chemical enrichment of a galaxy.

The team was led by Jordi Casanova, a PhD student, Jordi José, a Professor of Physics at UPC's Department of Physics and Nuclear Engineering, and Enrique García-Berro, Professor of Physics at the Department of Applied Physics, and their work shows how on stars about to go nova, or just on the brink, the distribution of material is following unstable mechanisms. As a result like tends to clump with like, so when it all blows apart, different sections of the explosion respond in different ways.

We are still some ways from being able to simulate nova in real-time, or in any particular detail if you wish to use one as an interactive experience for a teaching aid or for visualisation. The 3D simulation of the mixing process shown above, used all the data we have gathered on Nova to date, based on the 30-35 nova in our galaxy every year, and the complete gamut of spectrographic tools we have ever pointed at them.

It took dedicated time on the MareNostrum computer at the Barcelona Supercomputing Centre totalling 150,000 hours, to create this one nova, admittedly using a fractal detailing – you can zoom in considerably over this pixelated image above. Still, to create virtual novas in the mainstream, far greater simplification of the algorithms is required – something which this work has helped set the foundations for.


Paper: Kelvin–Helmholtz instabilities as the source of inhomogeneous mixing in nova explosions. Nature, October 2011

3-D Simulations of Nova Explosions

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