Our understanding of Earth’s interior is based mostly on observations of seismic waves, which travel differently through our rocky crust and the molten core. Scientists similarly use seismic waves in stars to determine their interiors. But the pressure and temperature conditions in stars are far beyond anything we have here on Earth, which makes predicting how waves will travel in such exotic material difficult.
To better understand these extreme temperatures and pressures, scientists are using Lawrence Livermore’s National Ignition Facility (NIF) to mimic conditions similar to the outer envelope of a white dwarf star, like the one shown in the center of the image above. NIF’s laser array – shown as the blue lines in the artist’s conception above – can generate spherical shock waves that, as they converge on a solid sample, create pressures as high as 450 Mbar, more than 400 million times sea level atmospheric pressure here on Earth. Although the shock wave takes only 9 ns to travel across the sample, it’s enough to give researchers a glimpse into star-like conditions. (Image credit: NASA/ESA/C. O’Dell/D. Thompson, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory; via Physics Today)