Carbon detonation

Carbon detonation or Carbon deflagration is the violent reignition of thermonuclear fusion in a white dwarf star that was previously slowly cooling. It involves a runaway thermonuclear process which spreads through the white dwarf in a matter of seconds, producing a Type Ia supernova which releases an immense amount of energy as the star is blown apart. The carbon detonation/deflagration process leads to a supernova by a different route from the better known Type II (core-collapse) supernova (the type II is caused by the cataclysmic explosion of the outer layers of a massive star as its core implodes).[1]

A white dwarf is the remnant of a small to medium size star (our sun is an example of these). At the end of its life, the star has burned its hydrogen and helium fuel, and thermonuclear fusion processes cease. The star does not have enough mass to either burn much heavier elements, or to implode into a neutron star or type II supernova as a larger star can, from the force of its own gravity, so it gradually shrinks and becomes very dense as it cools, glowing white and then red, for a period many times longer than the present age of the Universe.

Occasionally, a white dwarf gains mass from another source – for example, a binary star companion that is close enough for the dwarf star to siphon sufficient amounts of matter onto itself; or a collision with other stars, the siphoned matter having been expelled during the process of the companion's own late stage stellar evolution. If the white dwarf gains enough matter, its internal pressure and temperature will rise enough for carbon to begin fusing in its core. Carbon detonation generally occurs at the point when the accreted matter pushes the white dwarf's mass close to the Chandrasekhar limit of roughly 1.4 solar masses. This is the mass at which gravity can overcome the electron degeneracy pressure which had prevented the star from collapsing during its lifetime. The same also happens when two white dwarfs merge and the mass of the body formed is below the Chandrasekhar limit; if two white dwarves merge and the result is over the limit, a Type Ia supernova will occur.

A main sequence star supported by thermal pressure would expand and cool which automatically counterbalances an increase in thermal energy. However, degeneracy pressure is independent of temperature; the white dwarf is unable to regulate the fusion process in the manner of normal stars, so it is vulnerable to a runaway fusion reaction.

In the case of a white dwarf, the restarted fusion reactions releases heat, but the outward pressure that exists in the star and supports it against further collapse is initially due almost entirely to degeneracy pressure, not fusion processes or heat. Therefore, even when fusion recommences the outward pressure that is key to the star's thermal balance does not increase much. One result is that the star does not expand much to balance its fusion and heat processes with gravity and electron pressure, as it did when burning hydrogen (until too late). This increase of heat production without a means of cooling by expansion raises the internal temperature dramatically, and therefore the rate of fusion also increases extremely fast as well, a form of positive feedback known as thermal runaway.

A 2004 analysis of such a process states that:

A deflagration flame burning from the center of the white dwarf star outward leaves hot and light burnt material behind. The fuel in front of it is, however, cold and dense. This results in a density stratification inverse to the gravitational field of the star, which is therefore unstable. Thus, blobs of burning material form and ascend into the fuel. At their interfaces shear flows emerge. These effects lead to strong swirls. The resulting turbulent motions deform the flame and thus enlarge its surface. This increases the net burning rate of the flame and leads to the energetic explosion.[2]

The flame accelerates dramatically, in part due to the Rayleigh–Taylor instability and interactions with turbulence. The resumption of fusion spreads outward in a series of uneven, expanding "bubbles" in accordance with Rayleigh–Taylor instability.[3] Within the fusion area, the increase in heat with unchanged volume results in an exponentially rapid increase in the rate of fusion – a sort of supercritical event as thermal pressure increases boundlessly. As hydrostatic equilibrium is not possible in this situation, a "thermonuclear flame" is triggered and an explosive eruption through the dwarf star's surface that completely disrupts it, seen as a Ia supernova.

Regardless of the exact details of this nuclear fusion, it is generally accepted that a substantial fraction of the carbon and oxygen in the white dwarf is converted into heavier elements within a period of only a few seconds,[4] raising the internal temperature to billions of degrees. This energy release from thermonuclear fusion (1–2×1044 J[5]) is more than enough to unbind the star; that is, the individual particles making up the white dwarf gain enough kinetic energy to fly apart from each other. The star explodes violently and releases a shock wave in which matter is typically ejected at speeds on the order of 5,000–20000 km/s, roughly 6% of the speed of light. The energy released in the explosion also causes an extreme increase in luminosity. The typical visual absolute magnitude of Type Ia supernovae is Mv = −19.3 (about 5 billion times brighter than the Sun), with little variation.[6] This process, of a volume supported by electron degeneracy pressure instead of thermal pressure gradually reaching conditions capable of igniting runaway fusion, is also found in a less dramatic form in a helium flash in the core of a sufficiently massive red giant star.

See also


  1. ^ Gilmore, Gerry (2004). "The Short Spectacular Life of a Superstar". Science. 304 (5697): 1915–1916. doi:10.1126/science.1100370. PMID 15218132.
  2. ^ Röpke, Friedrich; Hillebrandt, Wolfgang (October 2004). "Current Research Highlight: Three-dimensional simulations of Type Ia supernova explosions". Max-Planck-Institut für Astrophysik.
  3. ^
  4. ^ Röpke, F. K.; Hillebrandt, W. (2004). "The case against the progenitor's carbon-to-oxygen ratio as a source of peak luminosity variations in Type Ia supernovae". Astronomy and Astrophysics. 420 (1): L1–L4. arXiv:astro-ph/0403509. Bibcode:2004A&A...420L...1R. doi:10.1051/0004-6361:20040135.
  5. ^ Khokhlov, A.; Müller, E.; Höflich, P. (1993). "Light curves of Type IA supernova models with different explosion mechanisms". Astronomy and Astrophysics. 270 (1–2): 223–248. Bibcode:1993A&A...270..223K.
  6. ^ Hillebrandt, W.; Niemeyer, J. C. (2000). "Type IA Supernova Explosion Models". Annual Review of Astronomy and Astrophysics. 38 (1): 191–230. arXiv:astro-ph/0006305. Bibcode:2000ARA&A..38..191H. doi:10.1146/annurev.astro.38.1.191.

External links


Carbon (from Latin: carbo "coal") is a chemical element with symbol C and atomic number 6. It is nonmetallic and tetravalent—making four electrons available to form covalent chemical bonds. It belongs to group 14 of the periodic table. Three isotopes occur naturally, 12C and 13C being stable, while 14C is a radionuclide, decaying with a half-life of about 5,730 years. Carbon is one of the few elements known since antiquity.Carbon is the 15th most abundant element in the Earth's crust, and the fourth most abundant element in the universe by mass after hydrogen, helium, and oxygen. Carbon's abundance, its unique diversity of organic compounds, and its unusual ability to form polymers at the temperatures commonly encountered on Earth enables this element to serve as a common element of all known life. It is the second most abundant element in the human body by mass (about 18.5%) after oxygen.The atoms of carbon can bond together in different ways, termed allotropes of carbon. The best known are graphite, diamond, and amorphous carbon. The physical properties of carbon vary widely with the allotropic form. For example, graphite is opaque and black while diamond is highly transparent. Graphite is soft enough to form a streak on paper (hence its name, from the Greek verb "γράφειν" which means "to write"), while diamond is the hardest naturally occurring material known. Graphite is a good electrical conductor while diamond has a low electrical conductivity. Under normal conditions, diamond, carbon nanotubes, and graphene have the highest thermal conductivities of all known materials. All carbon allotropes are solids under normal conditions, with graphite being the most thermodynamically stable form at standard temperature and pressure. They are chemically resistant and require high temperature to react even with oxygen.

The most common oxidation state of carbon in inorganic compounds is +4, while +2 is found in carbon monoxide and transition metal carbonyl complexes. The largest sources of inorganic carbon are limestones, dolomites and carbon dioxide, but significant quantities occur in organic deposits of coal, peat, oil, and methane clathrates. Carbon forms a vast number of compounds, more than any other element, with almost ten million compounds described to date, and yet that number is but a fraction of the number of theoretically possible compounds under standard conditions. For this reason, carbon has often been referred to as the "king of the elements".

Carbon-burning process

The carbon-burning process or carbon fusion is a set of nuclear fusion reactions that take place in the cores of massive stars (at least 8 M ⊙ {\displaystyle {\begin{smallmatrix}M_{\odot }\end{smallmatrix}}} at birth) that combines carbon into other elements. It requires high temperatures (> 5×108 K or 50 keV) and densities (> 3×109 kg/m3).

These figures for temperature and density are only a guide. More massive stars burn their nuclear fuel more quickly, since they have to offset greater gravitational forces to stay in (approximate) hydrostatic equilibrium. That generally means higher temperatures, although lower densities, than for less massive stars. To get the right figures for a particular mass, and a particular stage of evolution, it is necessary to use a numerical stellar model computed with computer algorithms. Such models are continually being refined based on nuclear physics experiments (which measure nuclear reaction rates) and astronomical observations (which include direct observation of mass loss, detection of nuclear products from spectrum observations after convection zones develop from the surface to fusion-burning regions – known as 'dredge-up' events – and so bring nuclear products to the surface, and many other observations relevant to models).

Chandrasekhar limit

The Chandrasekhar limit () is the maximum mass of a stable white dwarf star. The currently accepted value of the Chandrasekhar limit is about 1.4 M☉ (2.765×1030 kg).White dwarfs resist gravitational collapse primarily through electron degeneracy pressure (compare main sequence stars, which resist collapse through thermal pressure). The Chandrasekhar limit is the mass above which electron degeneracy pressure in the star's core is insufficient to balance the star's own gravitational self-attraction. Consequently, a white dwarf with a mass greater than the limit is subject to further gravitational collapse, evolving into a different type of stellar remnant, such as a neutron star or black hole. Those with masses under the limit remain stable as white dwarfs.The limit was named after Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, the Indian astrophysicist who improved upon the accuracy of the calculation in 1930, at the age of 20, in India by calculating the limit for a polytrope model of a star in hydrostatic equilibrium, and comparing his limit to the earlier limit found by E. C. Stoner for a uniform density star. Importantly, the existence of a limit, based on the conceptual breakthrough of combining relativity with Fermi degeneracy, was indeed first established in separate papers published by Wilhelm Anderson and E. C. Stoner in 1929. The limit was initially ignored by the community of scientists because such a limit would logically require the existence of black holes, which were considered a scientific impossibility at the time. That the roles of Stoner and Anderson are often forgotten in the astronomy community has been noted.

Compact star

In astronomy, the term "compact star" (or "compact object") refers collectively to white dwarfs, neutron stars, and black holes. It would grow to include exotic stars if such hypothetical dense bodies are confirmed.

Most compact stars are the endpoints of stellar evolution, and thus often referred to as stellar remnants, the form of the remnant depending primarily on the mass of the star when it formed. All of these objects have a high mass relative to their radius, giving them a very high density. The term compact star is often used when the exact nature of the star is not known, but evidence suggests that it is very massive and has a small radius, thus implying one of the above-mentioned categories. A compact star that is not a black hole may be called a degenerate star.

Deflagration to detonation transition

Deflagration to detonation transition (DDT) refers to a phenomenon in ignitable mixtures of a flammable gas and air (or oxygen) when a sudden transition takes place from a deflagration type of combustion to a detonation type of explosion.


Detonation (from Latin detonare, meaning 'to thunder down/forth') is a type of combustion involving a supersonic exothermic front accelerating through a medium that eventually drives a shock front propagating directly in front of it. Detonations occur in both conventional solid and liquid explosives, as well as in reactive gases. The velocity of detonation in solid and liquid explosives is much higher than that in gaseous ones, which allows the wave system to be observed with greater detail (higher resolution).

A very wide variety of fuels may occur as gases, droplet fogs, or dust suspensions. Oxidants include halogens, ozone, hydrogen peroxide and oxides of nitrogen. Gaseous detonations are often associated with a mixture of fuel and oxidant in a composition somewhat below conventional flammability ratios. They happen most often in confined systems, but they sometimes occur in large vapor clouds. Other materials, such as acetylene, ozone, and hydrogen peroxide are detonable in the absence of dioxygen.Detonation was discovered in 1881 by two pairs of French scientists Marcellin Berthelot and P. Vieille and Ernest-François Mallard and Henry Louis Le Chatelier. The mathematical predictions of propagation were carried out first by David Chapman in 1899 and by Émile Jouguet in 1905, 1906 and 1917. The next advance in understanding detonation was made by Zel'dovich, von Neumann, and W. Doering in the early 1940s.

Gravitational collapse

Gravitational collapse is the contraction of an astronomical object due to the influence of its own gravity, which tends to draw matter inward toward the center of gravity. Gravitational collapse is a fundamental mechanism for structure formation in the universe. Over time an initial, relatively smooth distribution of matter will collapse to form pockets of higher density, typically creating a hierarchy of condensed structures such as clusters of galaxies, stellar groups, stars and planets.

A star is born through the gradual gravitational collapse of a cloud of interstellar matter. The compression caused by the collapse raises the temperature until thermonuclear fusion occurs at the center of the star, at which point the collapse gradually comes to a halt as the outward thermal pressure balances the gravitational forces. The star then exists in a state of dynamic equilibrium. Once all its energy sources are exhausted, a star will again collapse until it reaches a new equilibrium state.

Helium flash

A helium flash is a very brief thermal runaway nuclear fusion of large quantities of helium into carbon through the triple-alpha process in the core of low mass stars (between 0.8 solar masses (M☉) and 2.0 M☉) during their red giant phase (the Sun is predicted to experience a flash 1.2 billion years after it leaves the main sequence). A much rarer runaway helium fusion process can also occur on the surface of accreting white dwarf stars.

Low mass stars do not produce enough gravitational pressure to initiate normal helium fusion. As the hydrogen in the core is exhausted, some of the helium left behind is instead compacted into degenerate matter, supported against gravitational collapse by quantum mechanical pressure rather than thermal pressure. This increases the density and temperature of the core until it reaches approximately 100 million kelvin, which is hot enough to cause helium fusion (or "helium burning") in the core.

However, a fundamental quality of degenerate matter is that changes in temperature do not produce a change of volume of the matter until the thermal pressure becomes so very high that it exceeds degeneracy pressure. In main sequence stars, thermal expansion regulates the core temperature, but in degenerate cores this does not occur. Helium fusion increases the temperature, which increases the fusion rate, which further increases the temperature in a runaway reaction. This produces a flash of very intense helium fusion that lasts only a few minutes, but briefly emits energy at a rate comparable to the entire Milky Way galaxy.

In the case of normal low mass stars, the vast energy release causes much of the core to come out of degeneracy, allowing it to thermally expand, however, consuming as much energy as the total energy released by the helium flash, and any left-over energy is absorbed into the star's upper layers. Thus the helium flash is mostly undetectable to observation, and is described solely by astrophysical models. After the core's expansion and cooling, the star's surface rapidly cools and contracts in as little as 10,000 years until it is roughly 2% of its former radius and luminosity. It is estimated that the electron-degenerate helium core weighs about 40% of the star mass and that 6% of the core is converted into carbon.

Index of physics articles (C)

The index of physics articles is split into multiple pages due to its size.

To navigate by individual letter use the table of contents below.

Outline of astronomy

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to astronomy:

Astronomy – studies the universe beyond Earth, including its formation and development, and the evolution, physics, chemistry, meteorology, and motion of celestial objects (such as galaxies, planets, etc.) and phenomena that originate outside the atmosphere of Earth (such as the cosmic background radiation).

Super soft X-ray source

A luminous supersoft X-ray source (SSXS, or SSS) is an astronomical source that emits only low energy (i.e., soft) X-rays. Soft X-rays have energies in the 0.09 to 2.5 keV range, whereas hard X-rays are in the 1–20 keV range. SSSs emit few or no photons with energies above 1 keV, and most have effective temperatures below 100 eV. This means that the radiation they emit is highly ionizing and is readily absorbed by the interstellar medium. Most SSSs within our own galaxy are hidden by interstellar absorption in the galactic disk. They are readily evident in external galaxies, with ~10 found in the Magellanic Clouds and at least 15 seen in M31.As of early 2005, more than 100 SSSs have been reported in ~20 external galaxies, the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC), Small Magellanic Cloud (SMC), and the Milky Way (MW). Those with luminosities below ~3 x 1038 erg/s are consistent with steady nuclear burning in accreting white dwarfs (WD)s or post-novae. There are a few SSS with luminosities ≥1039 erg/s.Super soft X-rays are believed to be produced by steady nuclear fusion on a white dwarf's surface of material pulled from a binary companion, the so-called close-binary supersoft source (CBSS). This requires a flow of material sufficiently high to sustain the fusion. Contrast this with the nova, where less flow causes the material to only fuse sporadically. Super soft X-ray sources can evolve into type Ia supernova, where a sudden fusion of material destroys the white dwarf, and neutron stars, through collapse.Super soft X-ray sources were first discovered by the Einstein Observatory. Further discoveries were made by ROSAT. Many different classes of objects emit supersoft X-radiation (emission dominantly below 0.5 keV).


A supernova ( plural: supernovae or supernovas, abbreviations: SN and SNe) is an event that occurs upon the death of certain types of stars.

Supernovae are more energetic than novae. In Latin, nova means "new", referring astronomically to what appears to be a temporary new bright star. Adding the prefix "super-" distinguishes supernovae from ordinary novae, which are far less luminous. The word supernova was coined by Walter Baade and Fritz Zwicky in 1931.Only three Milky Way, naked-eye supernova events have been observed during the last thousand years, though many have been seen in other galaxies. The most recent directly observed supernova in the Milky Way was Kepler's Supernova in 1604, but two more recent supernova remnants have also been found. Statistical observations of supernovae in other galaxies suggest they occur on average about three times every century in the Milky Way, and that any galactic supernova would almost certainly be observable with modern astronomical telescopes.

Supernovae may expel much, if not all, of the material away from a star at velocities up to 30,000 km/s or 10% of the speed of light. This drives an expanding and fast-moving shock wave into the surrounding interstellar medium, and in turn, sweeping up an expanding shell of gas and dust, which is observed as a supernova remnant. Supernovae create, fuse and eject the bulk of the chemical elements produced by nucleosynthesis. Supernovae play a significant role in enriching the interstellar medium with the heavier atomic mass chemical elements. Furthermore, the expanding shock waves from supernovae can trigger the formation of new stars. Supernova remnants are expected to accelerate a large fraction of galactic primary cosmic rays, but direct evidence for cosmic ray production was found only in a few of them so far. They are also potentially strong galactic sources of gravitational waves.Theoretical studies indicate that most supernovae are triggered by one of two basic mechanisms: the sudden re-ignition of nuclear fusion in a degenerate star or the sudden gravitational collapse of a massive star's core. In the first instance, a degenerate white dwarf may accumulate sufficient material from a binary companion, either through accretion or via a merger, to raise its core temperature enough to trigger runaway nuclear fusion, completely disrupting the star. In the second case, the core of a massive star may undergo sudden gravitational collapse, releasing gravitational potential energy as a supernova. While some observed supernovae are more complex than these two simplified theories, the astrophysical collapse mechanics have been established and accepted by most astronomers for some time.

Due to the wide range of astrophysical consequences of these events, astronomers now deem supernova research, across the fields of stellar and galactic evolution, as an especially important area for investigation.

Type Ia supernova

A type Ia supernova (read "type one-a") is a type of supernova that occurs in binary systems (two stars orbiting one another) in which one of the stars is a white dwarf. The other star can be anything from a giant star to an even smaller white dwarf.Physically, carbon–oxygen white dwarfs with a low rate of rotation are limited to below 1.44 solar masses (M☉). Beyond this, they reignite and in some cases trigger a supernova explosion. Somewhat confusingly, this limit is often referred to as the Chandrasekhar mass, despite being marginally different from the absolute Chandrasekhar limit where electron degeneracy pressure is unable to prevent catastrophic collapse. If a white dwarf gradually accretes mass from a binary companion, the general hypothesis is that its core will reach the ignition temperature for carbon fusion as it approaches the limit.

However, if the white dwarf merges with another white dwarf (a very rare event), it will momentarily exceed the limit and begin to collapse, again raising its temperature past the nuclear fusion ignition point. Within a few seconds of initiation of nuclear fusion, a substantial fraction of the matter in the white dwarf undergoes a runaway reaction, releasing enough energy (1–2×1044 J) to unbind the star in a supernova explosion.This type Ia category of supernovae produces consistent peak luminosity because of the uniform mass of white dwarfs that explode via the accretion mechanism. The stability of this value allows these explosions to be used as standard candles to measure the distance to their host galaxies because the visual magnitude of the supernovae depends primarily on the distance.

In May 2015, NASA reported that the Kepler space observatory observed KSN 2011b, a type Ia supernova in the process of exploding. Details of the pre-nova moments may help scientists better judge the quality of Type Ia supernovae as standard candles, which is an important link in the argument for dark energy.

White dwarf

A white dwarf, also called a degenerate dwarf, is a stellar core remnant composed mostly of electron-degenerate matter. A white dwarf is very dense: its mass is comparable to that of the Sun, while its volume is comparable to that of Earth. A white dwarf's faint luminosity comes from the emission of stored thermal energy; no fusion takes place in a white dwarf wherein mass is converted to energy. The nearest known white dwarf is Sirius B, at 8.6 light years, the smaller component of the Sirius binary star. There are currently thought to be eight white dwarfs among the hundred star systems nearest the Sun. The unusual faintness of white dwarfs was first recognized in 1910. The name white dwarf was coined by Willem Luyten in 1922.

White dwarfs are thought to be the final evolutionary state of stars whose mass is not high enough to become a neutron star, that of about 10 solar masses. This includes over 97% of the other stars in the Milky Way., § 1. After the hydrogen-fusing period of a main-sequence star of low or medium mass ends, such a star will expand to a red giant during which it fuses helium to carbon and oxygen in its core by the triple-alpha process. If a red giant has insufficient mass to generate the core temperatures required to fuse carbon (around 1 billion K), an inert mass of carbon and oxygen will build up at its center. After such a star sheds its outer layers and forms a planetary nebula, it will leave behind a core, which is the remnant white dwarf. Usually, white dwarfs are composed of carbon and oxygen. If the mass of the progenitor is between 8 and 10.5 solar masses (M☉), the core temperature will be sufficient to fuse carbon but not neon, in which case an oxygen–neon–magnesium white dwarf may form. Stars of very low mass will not be able to fuse helium, hence, a helium white dwarf may form by mass loss in binary systems.

The material in a white dwarf no longer undergoes fusion reactions, so the star has no source of energy. As a result, it cannot support itself by the heat generated by fusion against gravitational collapse, but is supported only by electron degeneracy pressure, causing it to be extremely dense. The physics of degeneracy yields a maximum mass for a non-rotating white dwarf, the Chandrasekhar limit—approximately 1.44 times of M☉—beyond which it cannot be supported by electron degeneracy pressure. A carbon-oxygen white dwarf that approaches this mass limit, typically by mass transfer from a companion star, may explode as a type Ia supernova via a process known as carbon detonation; SN 1006 is thought to be a famous example.

A white dwarf is very hot when it forms, but because it has no source of energy, it will gradually cool as it radiates its energy. This means that its radiation, which initially has a high color temperature, will lessen and redden with time. Over a very long time, a white dwarf will cool and its material will begin to crystallize, starting with the core. The star's low temperature means it will no longer emit significant heat or light, and it will become a cold black dwarf. Because the length of time it takes for a white dwarf to reach this state is calculated to be longer than the current age of the universe (approximately 13.8 billion years), it is thought that no black dwarfs yet exist. The oldest white dwarfs still radiate at temperatures of a few thousand kelvins.

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