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January 6, 2016

Key to building powerful magnetic fields

A supercomputer visualization of the strong, ordered magnetic field built up by dynamo action in the core of a rapidly rotating, collapsed star. In the span of 10 milliseconds, the rapid differential rotation revs up the stars magnetic field to a million billion times that of our sun (yellow is positive, light blue is negative). Red and blue represent weaker positive and negative magnetic fields, respectively.

More about this image
When certain massive stars use up all of their fuel and collapse onto their cores, explosions 10 to 100 times brighter than the average supernova occur. Exactly how this happens is not well understood.

Astrophysicists from the California Institute of Technology, the University of California, Berkeley, the Albert Einstein Institute, and the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics used 3-D computer simulations to fill in an important missing piece in understanding how supernovas explode. The simulations, performed on the National Science Foundation (NSF)-supported Blue Waters supercomputer located at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois, help explain how collapsing stars can generate magnetic fields.

This research was supported in part by NSF (grants AST 12-12170, PHY 11-51197 and OCI 09-05046).

To learn more, see the NSF News From the Field story Simulation shows key to building powerful magnetic fields. (Date image taken: unknown; date originally posted to NSF Multimedia Gallery: Jan. 6, 2016)

Credit: Robert R. Sisneros, NCSA; and Philipp Mösta, University of California, Berkeley

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