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Very lovely, as usual. I linked to you from my own blog about my personal experience getting my Phd with this very supernova. Hint hint. :)

"Smaller starts gradually cool to become white dwarfs, and those white dwarfs may turn into Type IA supernovae (like 1987A) if there is a near companion star."

Everything sounds right about this except the parenthesis. As Phil Plait has written, the star which blew up to become SN1987A (Sanduleak -69 202) was a blue supergiant. SN1987A is properly considered a Type II supernova; although it probably originated as a binary system, with one star swallowing another about 20,000 years ago, the thing which blew up was not a white dwarf.

"Physicists have built deep underground laboratories that have managed to detect the odd solar neutrino or two, but such events are rare; only a tiny fraction of the sun's neutrinos are detected. Supernovae like 1987A emit 1000 times more neutrinos than the sun will produce in its entire 10-billion-year lifetime. When it was first observed 20 years ago, the Super-Kamiokande detector in Japan picked up a few extra neutrinos: 19, to be exact. That's not much compared to how many neutrinos the supernova actually emitted, so it merely provide a few initial clues to the mystery of how supernovae really work."

The ghostly nature of neutrinos is both a benefit and a curse. The curse part is easy to understand: it makes the little things incredibly difficult to detect! You have to put a lot of matter in their way if you hope to catch any. By "a lot", I mean that Super-Kamiokande uses 50 kilotons of water in a tank under a mountain (and you thought "kiloton" only referred to atomic bombs!). The IceCube detector currently being constructed will use one cubic kilometer of Antarctic ice; they expect to finish in 2011, and at an estimated price tag of $271 million, it works out to a very economical 25 cents per ton!

The blessing of neutrinos is a little more subtle. A supernova produces vast quantities of them, radiating more energy in neutrinos than across the entire electromagnetic spectrum combined. Because neutrinos are so slippery, they can "ghost" their way through the expanding gases of the exploding star, while light is still trapped behind. Nobody knows for sure, but a neutrino signal could arrive at Earth several hours before telescopes could spot it in the sky. If all the neutrino detectors around the world ring at once, we'd better start looking up!

And here's where I plug my colleagues and friends in the Supernova Early Warning System cabal:

A technical description of the project and its methods is available via New J. Physics:

oh conservipedia how i love thee

Blake is correct: 87A was a Type II supernova, the M >~8 solar masses variety.

Also, it is the Type Ia supernovae that make the best standard candles, which led the the 1998 discovery of the acceleration.

Actually, it wasn't Super-K that saw neutrinos from 1987a.. it hadn't been built yet. Neutrinos were seen in the water-chereknov detectors of the time, namely IMB and Kamiokande.

This is important.. for the next supernova, you want multiple detectors running. Partly for coverage (since no detector is live 100% of the time), partly for extra information (SNO would have provided a wealth of SN data if it caught one!) and partly for coincidence... the SNEWS watch works only if it has multiple coincidece signals. Neutrinos see a supernova _first_, which is important. If we (neutrino physicists) see a supernova, we will notify the astronomical community, which mobilizes every telescope on the planet to try to see the thing.

Unfortunately, Super-K is just about the only big experiment sensitive to supernova neutrinos that is operating right now. That's one of the reasons we want to build UNO.


The TMBG quote is at a temperature of *millions* of degrees (not billions). But whatever, way way way hot.

Nice post, as usual. FYI, Karmen (Chaotic Utopia: Jan 26 post) has a link to the original by Tom Glazer.

Off Topic:

Major, major kudos on the excellent review in this week New York Times Book Review section of The Physics of the Buffyverse! A positive stand alone review, with a cute graphic! You should be justifiably proud.

And while I'm still off topic, but back to the blog: I would also commend you on the extend and quality of the writing you post up here, gratis, week in and week out. I am aware of the effort involved in writing just one essay, and the high quality product that you consistently put out is impressive.



Actually the "fuel" of stars does not "run out". It is more like a spring being compressed. As protons are converted to neutrons and when the amount of neutrons exceeds about 68% of the mass then gravitational cohesion evaporates and the stars explode as neutrons do not attract as much as Repel by that failure to attract. BUT a lovely descriptive blog posting you have, thanks.

As to neutrinos, to me and my understanding of 100 years of physics; which has developed into a quantum understanding of astrophysics: they seem to be the lynch pin for gravitational (Natural) fusion which is that as protons are compressed into smaller volumes, the neutrino acts like a pin for the electron to a proton to yield a neutron, which at a lifespan of 15 minutes disintegrates (WITHOUT gravity to keep it "pinched") into a proton and electron and neutrino. I may not be EXACT as to this point and the above point, but I am logical enough to say that I am accurate in my scientific vocabulary to have confidence in what I write in this regard. Of course I use multiple equations for electromagnetic (electron-nucleus vibrations or light) and for gravitational (nucleus vibrations). Of course non math/science people may read this open conversation and I will hear the "social-echo" on the streets of Major cities for seconds, minutes, hours, days, months, years, decades... and probably get fed up with sophisicated "traps" to test accuracy, or even just joke around. At least there are places where people can tell REAL science from ideas from other books written BEFORE observed science was written and lead to discrepancies that make communication between us mortals occasionally tough.

Off-topic ::

What if... and this ia a big if, our universe acted in the same ways that stars do and blackholes? Where they expand, collapse, expand, collapse, ect... multiple times? Man would that change my perception on time.

Also, when I was in AP Physics back last year in highschool my teacher Mr. Rich explained the process of a stars death, he informed us that many of the bigger stars supernova and turn into blackholes... such as Betelguise(sp?) and that at the moment we're looking at the last minutes of that particular star's life. I am interested in a field in astronomy and cosmology, but the lack of pay definitely directs me elsewhere.

Anyway, good morning read at work (stupid call centers) and even cooler comments. LOVE this site, and thats impressive coming from a 19 year old (we are sometimes hard to entertain).

actually, Einstein won his Nobel Prize for explaining the photoelectric effect.

I thought Einstein's Nobel Prize was on the photo electric effect. Wikipedia agrees. His Brownian Motion stuff was interesting too - proving that atoms exist at a time when there was some doubt about it. But the Photo Electric Effect led to Quantum Mechanics. You know - the guys who work on those little tiny cars... that are incompatible with Einstein's General Relativity.

Nick Johnson:

It's "Betelgeuse". ;-) It comes from the Arabic "yad al-jauza", meaning "hand of the Central One".

You might be interested looking up the "cyclic model". This is an idea which has been floating around for decades, and is currently being worked out by some string-theory people. The Wikipedia article on the topic is a little technical (what in blazes is an "orbifold" or an "ekpyrotic scenario", you may well ask), but it might give you a starting point:

Hi Jen Luc, rich & exciting post.
The beauty about modern technology is that one can ammend errors on posts online in a jiffy.

"although it probably originated as a binary system, with one star swallowing another about 20,000 years ago, the thing which blew up was not a white dwarf." - Thanks Blake Stacey

"Actually, it wasn't Super-K that saw neutrinos from 1987a.. it hadn't been built yet. Neutrinos were seen in the water-chereknov detectors of the time, namely IMB and Kamiokande." - Thanks Dr Nathaniel

"The TMBG quote is at a temperature of *millions* of degrees (not billions). But whatever, way way way hot." - Thanks Joshua Zucker

"actually, Einstein won his Nobel Prize for explaining the photoelectric effect." - Thanks djlactin

Blake I know you didn't mean it literally, but the Cyclic model is the preferred model of the other cabal (and has some ST people working on it) - but cannot be compared to a Supernova - where would we earthlings be 'sitting' to observe it. And where would all those neutrinos go? - to outer space?
Mind you maybe the (this) universe is short of a neutrino or ninetten, or is it 42.


I was just trying to give a little context to NJ's query about Universes which "expand, collapse, expand, collapse, etc... multiple times".

Actually; I have heard the claim that E=MC^2 has nothing to do with nuclear weapons from an actual physicist as well. His reasoning was basically like this:"Of course the formula doesn't just apply to nuclear reactions. It is equally appliable to chemical reactions, giving an equivalance between losing mass and giving of energy. But no one claims that Einstein should be thanked for all chemical reactions that are performed since relativity theory is pretty useless for predicting what chemical reactions will happens. Likewise, you don't actually need E=MC^2 to come up with the idea of nuclear reactions. Standard non-relativistic quantum mechanics works just fine."

Not being a physicist I won't judge his argument, which I anyway might have misunderstood in certain details. I would like to hear your opinion on it however.

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    Physics Cocktails

    • Heavy G
      The perfect pick-me-up when gravity gets you down.
      2 oz Tequila
      2 oz Triple sec
      2 oz Rose's sweetened lime juice
      7-Up or Sprite
      Mix tequila, triple sec and lime juice in a shaker and pour into a margarita glass. (Salted rim and ice are optional.) Top off with 7-Up/Sprite and let the weight of the world lift off your shoulders.
    • Listening to the Drums of Feynman
      The perfect nightcap after a long day struggling with QED equations.
      1 oz dark rum
      1/2 oz light rum
      1 oz Tia Maria
      2 oz light cream
      Crushed ice
      1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
      In a shaker half-filled with ice, combine the dark and light rum, Tia Maria, and cream. Shake well. Strain into an old fashioned glass almost filled with crushed ice. Dust with the nutmeg, and serve. Bongos optional.
    • Combustible Edison
      Electrify your friends with amazing pyrotechnics!
      2 oz brandy
      1 oz Campari
      1 oz fresh lemon juice
      Combine Campari and lemon juice in shaker filled with cracked ice. Shake and strain into chilled cocktail glass. Heat brandy in chafing dish, then ignite and pour into glass. Cocktail Go BOOM! Plus, Fire = Pretty!
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      Dr. Strangelove's drink of choice.
      3/4 Triple sec
      1/4 oz Bailey's Irish Cream
      2-3 drops Grenadine
      Fill shot glass 3/4 with Triple Sec. Layer Bailey's on top. Drop Grenadine in center of shot; it should billow up like a mushroom cloud. Remember to "duck and cover."
    • Mad Scientist
      Any mad scientist will tell you that flames make drinking more fun. What good is science if no one gets hurt?
      1 oz Midori melon liqueur
      1-1/2 oz sour mix
      1 splash soda water
      151 proof rum
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    • Laser Beam
      Warning: may result in amplified stimulated emission.
      1 oz Southern Comfort
      1/2 oz Amaretto
      1/2 oz sloe gin
      1/2 oz vodka
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      Combine all liquor in a full glass of ice. Shake well. Garnish with orange and cherry. Serve to attractive target of choice.
    • Quantum Theory
      Guaranteed to collapse your wave function:
      3/4 oz Rum
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    • The Black Hole
      So called because after one of these, you have already passed the event horizon of inebriation.
      1 oz. Kahlua
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