Technology & Science

'Supernova in a jar' created

Physicists have created in a lab a chemical reaction that mimics the process triggered when a star explodes — resulting in what researchers have colloquially called a "supernova in a jar."

Physicists have created in a lab a chemical reaction that mimics the process triggered when a star explodes — resulting in what researchers have colloquially called a "supernova in a jar."

In some types of supernova explosions, the detonation starts with a flame ball deep inside a white dwarf star.

"The flame ball is much lighter than its surroundings, so it rises rapidly, making a plume topped with an accelerating smoke ring," says a news release from the University of Toronto, where the primary research was carried out. 

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

Researchers were able to create a chemical reaction that released heat and changed the composition of a solution. That in turn led to a buoyancy that stirred the liquid and created more chemical reactions and ultimately, a cascading series of runaway explosions — much like what happens in a supernova. 

"A supernova is a dramatic example of this kind of self-sustaining explosion in which gravity and buoyancy forces are important effects," said Michael Rogers, a University of Toronto student who designed the experiment as part of his Ph.D. research. "We wanted to see what the liquid motion would look like in such a self-stirred chemical reaction.

"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 said. "The study of such explosions in stars is crucial to understanding the size and evolution of the universe."

The research is to be published in  Physics Review E.