Monday, September 29, 2014

CASTRO Simulations reveal an unusual death for ancient stars

This image is a slice through the interior of a supermassive star of 55,500 solar masses along the axis of symmetry. 

It shows the inner helium core in which nuclear burning is converting helium to oxygen, powering various fluid instabilities (swirling lines). 

This "snapshot" from a CASTRO simulation shows one moment a day after the onset of the explosion, when the radius of the outer circle would be slightly larger than that of the orbit of the Earth around the sun. 

Visualizations were done in VisIT

Credit: Ken Chen, University of California at Santa Cruz

Certain primordial stars, those 55,000 and 56,000 times the mass of our Sun, or solar masses, may have died unusually.

In death, these objects, among the Universe's first-generation of stars, would have exploded as supernovae and burned completely, leaving no remnant black hole behind.

Astrophysicists at the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC) and the University of Minnesota came to this conclusion after running a number of supercomputer simulations at the US Department of Energy's (DOE's) National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC) and Minnesota Supercomputing Institute at the University of Minnesota.

They relied extensively on CASTRO, a compressible astrophysics code developed at DOE's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory's (Berkeley Lab's) Computational Research Division (CRD).

Their findings were recently published in Astrophysical Journal (ApJ).

First-generation stars are especially interesting because they produced the first heavy elements, or chemical elements other than hydrogen and helium.

In death, they sent their chemical creations into outer space, paving the way for subsequent generations of stars, solar systems and galaxies.

With a greater understanding of how these first stars died, scientists hope to glean some insights about how the Universe, as we know it today, came to be.

"We found that there is a narrow window where supermassive stars could explode completely instead of becoming a supermassive black hole, no one has ever found this mechanism before," says Ke-Jung Chen, a postdoctoral researcher at UCSC and lead author of the ApJ paper.

"Without NERSC resources, it would have taken us a lot longer to reach this result."

"From a user perspective, the facility is run very efficiently and it is an extremely convenient place to do science."

More information: Astrophysical Journal,

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