IPMU Colloquium

Speaker: Tomasz Plewa (Florida State U)
Title: Supernovae: Observational Wonders and Theoretical Nightmares
Date: Wed, Jun 28, 2017, 15:30 - 17:00
Place: Lecture Hall
Abstract: Supernovae are some of the most brilliant and spectacular end products of stellar evolution. They serve as cosmological yardsticks, factories of chemical elements, and occasionally become visible to humans. They also proved extremely successful in guarding secrets of their origins against three generations of theoretical and computational astrophysicists.
The original insight offered by Hoyle & Fowler (1960) positioned researchers along two largely independent tracks of thermonuclear and core-collapse supernova explosion mechanism studies. So far neither track produced a definite answer as to how supernovae explode, while promises made more than a decade ago of finding such answers soon thanks to ever increasing computing power failed to materialize. Clearly, the reason for our defeat was not the limited computer power but rather qualitative shortcomings of the adopted conceptual models. In other words, we either did not include or did not correctly account for participating physics in our computer models. In this talk, I will first briefly review the main components and features of standard supernova explosion models. I will argue that large-scale, integrated simulations are necessary but not sufficient in order to understand the explosion mechanism. Oftentimes, important insights can be gained by considering not just less complex and substantially cheaper, but more importantly better-posed and more easily controlled situations. These include laboratory experiments and community efforts aimed at validating computer models. Such studies typically probe relevant basic physics, and their results have strong potential of fundamentally changing research directions. I will provide examples of such science discovery projects in application to both core-collapse and thermonuclear supernovae.