Over the last couple of months I’ve been working on a new project with an undergraduate student and a postdoc. I’m not really ready to talk about the details yet, but one thing that became clear during our work was that we would understand the results of our numerical solutions much better if we had a movie of them. This is pretty standard these days and (particularly when you have a smart, motivated and fast student) one can obtain quite sophisticated animated solutions that allow one to develop a feeling for rather unintuitive results.
Having said this, I must confess that my own research isn’t one of the areas of science that typically lends itself to spectacular and artistic visualization. And I’m always therefore a little jealous of those people whose results allow dramatic representations.
A number of these are being featured in Wired’s Best Science Visualization Videos of 2009. These are drawn from across all of science and what they all have in common, aside from their usefulness in their respective fields, is their great beauty.
The closest one of these to my own area is the quite stunning movie of the simulation of a type Ia supernova explosion, credited to Brad Gallagher, George Jordan, Dean Townsley, Robert Fisher, Nathan Hearn, Jim Truan and Don Lamb.
A good theoretical description of these objects is certainly fascinating astrophysics in its own right. However, as we’ve discussed many times on this blog, it is also an important step in understanding how, and the extent to which, type Ia supernovae can serve as standardizable candles, with which we may track the expansion history of the universe. The current understanding of this has been enough to discover the fact that the universe is accelerating, but our future plans are to exploit it further, to help provide insight into the origin of cosmic acceleration. A detailed understanding of how supernova explosions occur would be a valuable contribution to this quest.
And they’re just lovely to watch.