Helium Detonations on Neutron Stars

M. Zingale, F. X. Timmes, B. Fryxell, D. Q. Lamb, K. Olson, A. C. Calder, L. J. Dursi, P. Ricker, R. Rosner, P. MacNeice, and H. Tufo


ApJS, 2001, ApJS, 133, 195.

We present the results of a numerical study of helium detonations on the surfaces of neutron stars. These calculations were performed with the FLASH Code (Fryxell et al. 2000), a parallel, adaptive, multidimensioal hydrodynamics code. We show two-dimensional, cylindrical geometry (r,z) simulations of the evolution of a detonation as it breaks through the accreted envelope of the neutron star and propagates laterally through the accreted material. We were able to confirm the basic results of the only previous multidimensional simulation of such a helium detonaion (Fryxell and Woosley 1982), and extended the calculation to reveal a host of new physical phenomena.

Movies of the evolution.

The vertical axis extends through the accreted envelope, to a height of 1.5 km. The horizontal axis is a 2 km portion along the surface of the neutron star. In all the figures, a green line marks a helium mass fraction of 0.95, which will separate the fuel and ash as the detonation progresses. A light blue line marks a nickel mass fraction of 0.95, showing the interface between the accreted envelope and the underlying neutron star. Finally, a dark blue line marks a density of 10 g/cm3, giving a rough measure of the location of the original surface of the envelope. The density plot spans 13 orders of magnitude, from the dense material at the base of the envelope (108 g/cm3) to the fluff, with a density of 10-5 g/cm3.

Conclusions

We have presented a simulation of the initial stages of a helium detonation propagating through the accreted envelope of a neutron star. Thermonuclear runaways on neutron stars are generally accepted to explain Type I X-ray bursts. A detonation was chosen to yield a rapid propagation timescale around the neutron star, which some X-ray burst observations require. We were able to confirm the basic results of the only previous multidimensional simulation of such a helium detonation (Fryxell and Woosley 1982), and extended the calculation to reveal a host of new physical phenomena. We have found interesting results pertaining both to the astrophysics of thermonuclear outbursts on neutron stars, and the physics of the burning processes.

Computational constraints limited us to following the evolution on a 2 km wide domain and for a duration of 150 microseconds. Future calculations will explore a range of initial conditions, including models where the front propagates as a deflagration (with a lower base density), to strengthen the connection between the simulations and observations of Type I X-ray bursts.

Images/Movies

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30 microseconds

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60 microseconds

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90 microseconds

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120 microseconds

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150 microseconds

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These movies are all 720x480 pixels in QuickTime format. There are approximately 600 frames in each movie, and as a result, they are quite large (~ 40 MB).

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Large (300dpi) images from the simulation

[60 microseconds] [90 microseconds] [150 microseconds]

References

Fryxell et al., 2000 ApJS, 131, 273.
Fryxell, B. A. and Woosley, S. E. 1982 ApJ, 258, 733.
Zingale et al., 2001 ApJS, 133, 195.

Acknowledgements

This work is supported by the Department of Energy under Grant No. B341495 to the Center for Astrophysical Thermonuclear Flashes at the University of Chicago. These calculations were performed on the Nirvana Cluster at Los Alamos National Laboratory and an SGI Origin 2000 at Argonne National Laboratory.