Space & Innovation

The Supercomputer Supernova

Supernova Plasma Energy

Computer visualization is an essential tool for scientists to gain an insight to how complex physical, biological and chemical phenomena work. From protein structures to the detonation of supernovae, scientists are finding faster, more precise and more powerful means of simulating these systems using supercomputers. One such supercomputer is the Blue Gene®/P housed at the U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory in Chicago where 160,000 computing cores work in parallel to process 557 trillion calculations per second. If you to tried to simulate an equivalent system on your standard home computer, it would take three years just to download the data! Turning that data into a usable model would be an impossible task. Now, using a new technique called software-based parallel volume rendering, scientists at Argonne are able to visualize 3D models of supernovae. In the visualization above, the various plasma energies of the expanding supernova are color coded, allowing the scientists to peer deep into the inner workings of the explosion, providing an invaluable look at this powerful astrophysical event.

Moment of Detonation

In this visualization, the moment of detonation of a Type 1a supernova is modeled. This situation arises when a white dwarf star has accreted mass from a binary partner to a point when gravitational forces overcome the outward electron degeneracy pressure. The star collapses and it is thought that carbon fusion is initiated in the core, creating a supernova. The star is completely destroyed. Around 1-2 × 1044 Joules of energy is released from Type 1a supernovae, ejecting matter and shock waves traveling at velocities of 3-12,000 miles per second (approximately 2-7% the speed of light).

White Dwarf No More

The Type 1a supernova proceeds in the simulation, ripping through the white dwarf star.

Complex Fluid Mechanics

Detailed visualizations of the nuclear combustion inside a supernova. The calculations are based on fluid mechanics, showing how the explosion rips through the star.

Tycho's Nova

Advanced computational methods as being developed at Argonne National Laboratory will help astrophysicists understand how supernovae behave. This is an image of the famous Tycho's Nova (known as SN 1572), the beautiful remnant of a Type 1a supernova.