Simulating Supernova Remnants and Star Formation With a High-Power Laser in Earthbound Lab

Supernova Explosion Nebula

Animation showing the formation of a supernova remnant.

High-power laser and foam ball show how blast waves from supernova remnant might trigger star formation in a molecular cloud.

Molecular clouds are collections of gas and dust in space. When left alone, the clouds remain in their state of peaceful equilibrium.

But when triggered by some external agent, like supernova remnants, shockwaves can propagate through the gas and dust to create pockets of dense material. At a certain limit, that dense gas and dust collapses and begins to form new stars.

Astronomical observations lack the spatial resolution required to observe these processes, and numerical simulations are incapable of handling the complexities of the interaction between clouds and supernova remnants. As a result, the triggering and formation of new stars in this manner remains mostly shrouded in mystery.

In an article that was recently published the journal Matter and Radiation at Extremes, by AIP Publishing in partnership with China Academy of Engineering Physics, researchers modeled the interaction between supernova remnants and molecular clouds using a high-power laser and a foam ball. The study was conducted by scientists from the Polytechnic Institute of Paris, the Free University of Berlin, the Joint Institute for High Temperatures of the Russian Academy of Sciences, the Moscow Engineering Physics Institute, the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission, the University of Oxford, and Osaka University.

The foam ball represents a dense area within a molecular cloud. The high-power laser creates a blast wave that propagates through a surrounding chamber of gas and into the ball, where the team observed the compression using X-ray images.

Evolution of Massive Cloud

Illustration of the evolution of a massive cloud which indicates the importance of SNR propagation in forming new stars. Credit: Albertazzi et al.

“We are really looking at the beginning of the interaction,” said author Bruno Albertazzi. “In this way, you can see if the average density of the foam increases and if you will begin to form stars more easily.”

The mechanisms for triggering star formation are interesting on a number of scales. They can impact the star formation rate and evolution of a galaxy, help explain the formation of the most massive stars, and have consequences in our own solar system.

“Our primitive molecular cloud, where the sun was formed, was probably triggered by supernova remnants,” said author Albertazzi. “This experiment opens a new and promising path for laboratory astrophysics to understand all these major points.”

While some of the foam compressed, some of it also stretched out. This changed the average density of the material, so in the future, the authors will need to account for the stretched mass to truly measure the compressed material and the shockwave’s impact on star formation. They plan to explore the influence of radiation, magnetic field, and turbulence.

“This first paper was really to demonstrate the possibilities of this new platform opening a new topic that could be investigated using high-power lasers,” said Albertazzi.

Reference: “Triggering star formation: Experimental compression of a foam ball induced by Taylor–Sedov blast waves” by B. Albertazzi, P. Mabey, Th. Michel, G. Rigon, J. R. Marquès, S. Pikuz, S. Ryazantsev, E. Falize, L. Van Box Som, J. Meinecke, N. Ozaki, G. Gregori and M. Koenig, 12 April 2022, Matter and Radiation at Extremes.
DOI: 10.1063/5.0068689

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