For most of the 20th century, astronomers have scoured the skies for supernovae—the explosive deaths of massive stars—and their remnants in search of clues about the progenitor, the mechanisms that caused it to explode, and the heavy elements created in the process. In fact, these events create most of the cosmic elements that go on to form new stars, galaxies, and life.
Because no one can actually see a supernova up close, researchers rely on supercomputer simulations to give them insights into the physics that ignites and drives the event. Now for the first time ever, an international team of astrophysicists simulated the three-dimensional (3-D) physics of superluminous supernovae—which are about a hundred times more luminous than typical supernovae. They achieved this milestone using Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s (Berkeley Lab’s) CASTRO code and supercomputers at the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC). A paper describing their work was published in Astrophysical Journal.
Astronomers have found that these superluminous events occur when a magnetar—the rapidly spinning corpse of a massive star whose magnetic field is trillions of times stronger than Earth’s—is in the center of a young supernova. Radiation released by the magnetar is what amplifies the supernova’s luminosity. But to understand how this happens, researchers need multidimensional simulations.