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How to make a supernova

Hands-on at the exhibit

  • Come along and create a ‘shock wave’ using a handheld vortex cannon, and see if you can knock down some paper cups from your friends’ heads!
  • Bask in the power of plasma globes and conduct electricity with your bare hands!
  • Have a look at some tiny experimental targets, made with high-precision engineering, that we use in real laser experiments to create supernovas in the lab.
  • Make your own spinning galaxy pinwheels, colourful laser goggles, and supernova puzzles!

Find out more

Supernova explosions – violent deaths of exploding stars - are one of the most powerful events in the universe. They radiate unprecedented energy, outshine entire galaxies, and release elements that make up our physical bodies. In fact, matter in your left hand may have come from a different exploding star than matter in your right hand!

Today, the largest and most powerful lasers in the world can deliver more energy than ever within a lab. The Orion laser can deliver 1,000 times the power of the entire US national grid in just a fraction of a second, over an area smaller than a pin head. Squeezing so much power into a small amount of time and space allows us to create unbelievably extreme conditions – the same conditions that power some of the most energetic events in the universe.

Because of this, we can now recreate and study some of the most violent astrophysical events known in our universe within the confines of a lab, such as supernova explosions and collisions of galaxy clusters. Imagine being able to create tiny supernovas that could fit in the palm of your hand, and to witness their entire lifespan within a fraction of a second instead of waiting around for thousands of years!  Our research is helping us better understand some of the most powerful natural processes known to humankind, and more importantly, the origins of our universe.

Find out more by reading Dr. Jena Meinecke's 'Ask me Anything' (AMA) feature on Reddit, or an article on our work. There is also an episode of The Sky at Night featuring Dr. Jena Meinecke and another video on YouTube.

Presented by: University of Oxford, Imperial College London and AWE Plc.