Triggering Nature's Biggest Blasts

Stars more massive than about eight times the mass of the Sun end their lives dramatically. For some, death is marked by a core-collapse supernova, a violent explosion that seeds the interstellar medium with many of the heavy elements essential for life (including many of those particular atoms you're made of). If we [humans] could somehow harness the energy of even a single supernova, we could power all of human civilization at its current rate of energy use for ∼10 yottayears (that's 10000000000000000000000000 years, or about a quadrillion times the age of the Universe). Of course, we should not count on supernovae contributing to our clean energy future anytime soon. One problem (among a great many) is that ≈99% of a supernova's energy comes out as neutrinos, slipperly little buggers that are famously hard to catch. Nearly as elusive as neutrinos is a clear understanding of why these stars explode to begin with. Despite 50+ years of concerted effort, no one has yet demonstrated a theory that robustly and convincingly reproduces the rich phenomenology and/or quantitative measurements of supernova explosions. There's good reason for this—the physics of supernova explosions is complex and subtle, involving all four fundamental forces and relevant length and time scales that span 15 orders of magnitude or more. As if that isn't enough, the neutrino transport problem is also 7 dimensional, with 3 dimensions of space, 3 dimensions in neutrino momentum space, and 1 dimension in time. Adding insult to injury, there are also 6 different kinds of neutrinos. In the end, the neutrino transport problem alone boils down to solving six 7 dimensional integro-partial differential equations. On top of that, one must deal with complicated nuclear equations of state, turbulent (magneto-) hydrodynamics, and Einstein's equations for gravity. Addressing the full problem, whether analytically or with numerical simulations, simply is not yet possible.

Under construction...