Astrophysics

How Stars Explode

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Science  19 Aug 2011:
Vol. 333, Issue 6045, pp. 920
DOI: 10.1126/science.333.6045.920-a

White dwarfs in binary systems with other stars can sometimes explode thermonuclearly as supernovae. How these very dense stars, the remnants of stars like our Sun, explode is still not fully understood. One aspect that needs explanation is the deflagration-to-detonation transition; i.e., how a subsonic flame can form a supersonic detonation. The physics of this transition has been explained in confined systems, where there are walls, internal obstacles, or preexisting shocks, but not in unconfined media, such as the interior of a white dwarf. Current models of supernovae explosions do not predict the deflagration-to-detonation transition in the interior of a white dwarf, but the same process is thought to occur in chemical explosions, such as those responsible for major industrial disasters. Poludnenko et al. model chemical combustion using direct numerical simulations and show that unconfined turbulent flames can spontaneously transition to detonation if they become fast enough. The mechanism is different from what had been expected, and it may help model supernovae explosions in a more realistic way.

Phys. Rev. Lett. 107, 54501 (2011).

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