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Engine behind a hypernova

Hypernovae are the most extreme and brightest explosions in the universe. They emit gamma-ray bursts and, along with weaker supernovae, synthesize most of the elements heavier than iron on the periodic table. Because of their connection to heavy elements, Philipp Mösta, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, Berkeley, and lead author of a recent publication in Nature, says that supernovae were essential to the creation of life.

“You need an engine to drive those explosions,” says Mösta, “and we want to figure out the engine.”

Hypernova simulations usually rely on imposed magnetic fields to drive the explosion. For the first time, the Blue Waters supercomputer allowed the simulation to generate the magnetic field based on modeled turbulence, something that is too complicated for smaller simulations, rather than imposing a magnetic field. The simulation used 10 to 20 times higher resolution than any prior simulation, which required Blue Waters’ fast interconnect and large number of processors. It took three weeks in real time on 130,000 processors for a total of two million node-hours on Blue Waters’ CPUs.

“Without Blue Waters we wouldn’t have been able to do this simulation,” says Mösta.

He notes that Rob Sisneros, the technical program manager for Blue Waters visualization at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications, was indispensable to visualizing data from the simulation. Mösta and his team are working on adding GPUs into the mix for future simulations.

Read more about Mösta and colleagues hypernova research at The Nature publication is posted at

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