Uranium ‘snowflakes’ may set off explosions of lifeless stars

Tiny crystals of uranium may set off huge explosions inside a lifeless star, physicists suggest, making for a cosmic model of a thermonuclear bomb.

Expired stars referred to as white dwarfs slowly cool as they age. Within the course of, heavy components corresponding to uranium start to crystalize, forming “snowflakes” within the stars’ cores. If sufficient uranium clumps collectively — in regards to the mass of a grain of sand — it may provoke a sequence of nuclear fission reactions, or the splitting of atomic nuclei.

These reactions may increase temperatures inside the star, setting off nuclear fusion — the merging of atomic nuclei — and producing an unlimited explosion that destroys the star, two physicists calculate in a paper revealed March 29 in Bodily Evaluation Letters. The impact is akin to a hydrogen bomb, a strong thermonuclear weapon wherein fission reactions set off fusion, says Matt Caplan of Illinois State College in Regular. The state of affairs remains to be hypothetical, Caplan admits — extra analysis is required to find out if uranium snowflakes may actually spur a stellar detonation.

White dwarfs are already identified to be explosion-prone: They’re the source of blasts referred to as sort 1a supernovas. Sometimes, these explosions occur when a white dwarf pulls matter off a companion star (SN: 3/23/16). The researchers’ uranium snowflake proposal is a completely new mechanism that may clarify a small fraction of sort 1a supernovas, with out the necessity for one more star.

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