Reasons to Believe

Measuring the Candle

Reasons To Believe has noted more than once the important role Type Ia Supernovae play as “standard candles” in measuring the large-scale properties of the universe. They are being developed and used effectively as a part of the Supernova Cosmology Project and the High-Z Supernova Search for establishing the reality of the accelerating expansion rate of the cosmos since the big bang.

A new research facility at Florida State University (FSU) is attempting to duplicate the conditions present in supernovae in hopes of gaining a better understanding of these objects. Weighing some 16 tons and taking up more than 450 square feet of space in their accelerator lab, RESOLUT—short for REsonator SOLenoid with Upscale Transmission—enables researchers to fire a beam of atomic particles through a steel tube approaching one-tenth the speed of light, and then to observe the nuclear reactions that occur.

When the beam strikes a target, the collision produces very exotic nuclei that contain properties similar to those occurring in stars and star explosions. One of RESOLUT’s greatest values is its ability to function as a mass spectrometer—a device that will allow the researcher to identify and study the short-lived particles created during these miniature explosions.

Ingo Wiedenhover, an associate professor of physics at FSU, heads up the RESOLUT team. He is overseeing several experiments using RESOLUT that create, for a fraction of a second, a specific type of radioactive nuclei found only in Type Ia supernovae.

“Type Ia supernovas result when a certain type of star known as a white dwarf reaches a critical mass and burns through its nuclear fuel so quickly that it suddenly explodes,” Wiedenhover says. “What makes these explosions so useful for astrophysicists is that they always release the same amount of energy, so their peak brightness is virtually the same in all instances. This uniform level of brightness makes Type Ia supernovas useful as a ‘standard candle’—a gauge for measuring distances across the universe.”

As researchers learn more about how Type Ia supernovae (and other stars) explode, the stars’ nuclear processes and the origin of elements, they hope to better establish the case for supernovae as standard candles. This research paves the way for more investigation into measuring the accelerating cosmic expansion rate and confirming the laws of physics as fine-tuned to support life. With more testing comes more affirmation for RTB’s cosmic creation model and the case for a supernatural Creator.

Subjects: Universe Design

Dr. David Rogstad

Dr. Dave Rogstad received his PhD in physics from Caltech and worked over 30 years for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Though now retired, Dave continues to serve as an RTB board member and participates regularly in several RTB podcasts.