Astrophysicists are busily preparing to recreate the physical environment that can be found inside of stars thanks to the $7 million grant that was just awarded to the University of Texas at Austin. While the world of astrophysics has normally been one that approaches its field primarily from a series of direct observations, this is set to change markedly as astrophysicists will now be able to perform direct experiments on everything that stars are made of.
This novel new approach to studying stars will be a great help when it comes to learning more about specific types of stars such as the white dwarf, with experiments showing much more clearly what not only the age, but also the size of these stars may actually be, as Astronomy reports.
There will be plenty of time for astrophysicists to conduct their experiments on the environment inside of stars as the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration’s grant will be good for the next five years, allowing researchers to build their special Center for Astrophysical Plasma Properties (CAPP).
The device that will allow astrophysicists to conduct their experiments is the unique and mighty Z-machine, which is currently the strongest x-ray source that has ever been constructed. It is this Z-machine that will directly mimic the intense temperature found inside of stars.
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As Mike Montgomery of the Center for Astrophysical Plasma Properties explained, the new experimental research on star materials is crucial if astrophysicists are to truly understand the making of stars, and the powerful Z-machine will be able to perfectly simulate the temperatures of these stars.
“Here, if we want to study a white dwarf whose surface is at 15,000 degrees, then we’re doing the experiment at 15,000 degrees. It is really like taking a piece from the Sun and looking at it under a microscope.”
As Professor Don Winget further elaborated, performing such direct experiments is really the best way to learn more about astrophysics due to the severe limits placed on knowledge by purely observational methods.
“The really amazing thing about this research is that it changes the way astronomy has been conducted in the past. There were a lot of things we thought we understood, or knew we didn’t understand in astrophysics. By re-creating those conditions and making real measurements in the laboratory, we’re changing how we think of not only astronomy as a field, but how we think of specific astronomical objects.”
If you have ever been curious about the stuff stars are made of, with the help of the Z-machine the world of astrophysics looks set to change in a really big and exciting way.