Physicists create supernova in a jar (w/ Video)

Dec 02, 2010
A vertical tube of viscous solution contains stable reactants for the Iodate Arsenous Acid reaction. An indicator makes the solution red. Reaction is triggered at the base of a small tube at the bottom, leading to a growing plume that sheds accelerating vortex rings. No fluid is injected: all the buoyancy is created by the reaction itself. This image shows a pair of successive accelerating vortex rings launched by the plume. The process is analogous to the nuclear deflagration leading to the detonation of a type Ia supernova. Experiment by Michael C. Rogers

( -- A team of physicists from the University of Toronto and Rutgers University have mimicked the explosion of a supernova in miniature.

A is an . In a certain type of supernova, the detonation starts with a flame ball buried deep inside a white dwarf. The flame ball is much lighter than its surroundings, so it rises rapidly making a plume topped with an accelerating smoke ring.

"We created a smaller version of this process by triggering a special chemical reaction in a closed container that generates similar plumes and ," says Stephen Morris, a University of Toronto physics professor.

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.
A plume driven by buoyancy which is being created by a chemical reaction. The plume accelerates and sheds accelerating smoke ring vortices. The process is analogous to the detonation of a type Ia supernova. Experiment by Michael C. Rogers

Autocatalytic chemical reactions release heat and change the composition of a solution, which can create buoyancy forces that can stir the liquid, leading to more reaction and a runaway explosive process. "A supernova is a dramatic example of this kind of self-sustaining explosion in which gravity and buoyancy forces are important effects. We wanted to see what the liquid motion would look like in such a self-stirred chemical reaction," says Michael Rogers, who led the experiment as part of his PhD research, under the supervision of Morris.

"It is extremely difficult to observe the inside of a real exploding star light years away so this experiment is an important window into the complex fluid motions that accompany such an event," Morris explains. "The study of such explosions in stars is crucial to understanding the size and evolution of the universe."

The research will appear in Physics Review E in the next few weeks.

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User comments : 9

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5 / 5 (7) Dec 02, 2010
I love it. "It is a supernova in a jar!" This is like comparing a vote on favorite snack in a first grade classroom to a national election. Sure they voted, but it was 20 to 30 6 and 7 year-olds.

I suppose there may be lessons learned, but...

I guess you put labels like this on things to garner interest. "Exploration of the fluid dynamics of a self-sustaining explosion in a viscous medium" doesn't really catch the eye like "Supernova in a bottle!"

Love the research, but I had to react to the headline.
4.5 / 5 (2) Dec 02, 2010
Agreed. I'd go so far as to say that such titles are irresponsible. Sort of the like the boy who cried wolf...
1 / 5 (7) Dec 02, 2010
IMO supernova doesn't explode so. IMO it crushes from surface to center and the surface cone creates less or more symmetric polar jets, each of which is similar to splash, formed during throwing of dense stone into deep water (watch the video from 1:30 min).

not rated yet Dec 02, 2010
as soon as i saw mention of the word 'rings' i immediately drew a correlation (probably erroneous, but what the hey, i'm not a theoretical physicist with a rep to think of) with an article i read on here the other day (http://www.physor...g.html). read and discuss!
5 / 5 (2) Dec 02, 2010
@hockart - Oh no you didn't! I certainly hope the conversation from that other article doesn't spill into this one.

And there is a correlation only in so much that a plane splice of the supernova looks like a ring, just as a rock in a pond. The rings in the other article are thought (speculated) to be an artifact of a different and much MUCH larger phenomenon (SMBH collisions or some such).

I would be curious if the experimenters here could reproduce their experiment in a large spherical container with the reaction beginning in the center?
4.5 / 5 (2) Dec 02, 2010
well, i did say i was probably wrong. maybe you guys should switch to decaf and lighten up :)
not rated yet Dec 03, 2010
I would be curious if the experimenters here could reproduce their experiment in a large spherical container with the reaction beginning in the center?

Why? Because of the Earth's gravitational field, such an experiment wouldn't have the same symmetry as a nuclear flame originating near the center of a star. It would still go up.
not rated yet Dec 03, 2010
Would like to see this in a low or near-zero-gravity environment.
not rated yet Dec 03, 2010
Don't you think the outward force of the reaction would overwhelm the gravitational effects of the Earth, at least initially? I would think that the effects of gravity could be accounted for anyway.

@sender, If it worked well enough I guess we could take it out into a "weight-less" environment. Man, we would be good at spending research money.