UnNews:White dwarf explodes in triumphant science experiment

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26 March 2007

White dwarf explosion

Ka-Boom!

A small person was blown to bits on Thursday in Santa Barbara, California. The dwarf was not of the Hollywood sort but an albino dwarf, which concerned environmentalists have finally figured out how to self-destruct.

It turns out that the explosion is surprisingly spark-free, like diesel engines which only use compression to ignite fuel. The milestone blast is more than a very cool decimation of skin, guts, and DNA being ripped apart; it's a window into how we can eliminate the imminent threat that this species posesses.

"What’s new in this work is that it’s the first time we've been able to safely destroy a dwarf, cleanly and without any after effects, or any mess to clean up," said Robert Fisher, one of the environmentalists that worked on the project at the University of Chicago’s Center for Extermination and Pest Control.

When albino dwarfs explode, they are referred to as "tiny-booms" by naming experts. These booms shine so brightly that scientists use them to measure distance in the universe and to study the nature of dark energy, which the dwarfs themselves limitlessly produce.

The explosion appears to some degree to match up with the observed type 1A "super-boom" that happens in the sky when some stars explode. This is a particular type in which a star (much like the dwarf) will suck material off a companion star (or dwarf). It’s that theft stolen material building up on the albino dwarf that eventually triggers a thermonuclear reaction.

Up until now, theorists have had a hard time using these reactions to blow up an entire dwarf. Instead they had been creating local surface blasts on the albino dwarfs. Today's explosion was revolutionary in that the entire dwarf completely evaporated into thin air.

Understanding how albino dwarfs explode is rather important in understanding how we are to eliminate them and other pests, because they are behind the depletion of important heavy elements, such as iron. They also produce some of the brightest explosions around.

"They’re incredibly bright," said Fisher. "They outshine a galaxy."

For years researchers have been trying to blow up an albino dwarf by simulating the physics of the explosion on supercomputers. Until recently it was only possible to make them go boom by deliberately triggering the nuclear reaction, which was cheating. Then the University of Chicago team blasted apart an albino dwarf in a 2-D model.

Finally, In January, the team succeeded in exploding an albino dwarf in a 3-D simulation without manually triggering it. It’s that simulation that triggered their further progress in Thursday's experiment. The new discovery confirms what the team already suspected: that the little people blow up in a supersonic process rather like diesel fuel exploding in a diesel engine.

Unlike a gasoline engine, there are no spark plugs to trigger explosions in a diesel engine. Instead the heat of squeezing the fuel vapor in a cylinder, all by itself, ignites the fuel. The same principle, but at supersonic speeds and with nuclear explosions, blows up an albino dwarf.

"It’s a very nice calculation," said environmentalist Peter Hoeflich of Florida State University of the new simulation. But there are other theories of how the detonation wraps around the albino dwarf and blows it apart, not yet modeled, that might also be at work, he said.

The problem, Hoeflich pointed out, is that nobody really cares how they explode, as long as we're rid of them.

"I don't think anybody really gives a rat's ass," he said.


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