Ignition of Carbon Burning from Nuclear Fission in Compact Stars

C. J. Horowitz

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1 Scopus citations


Type Ia supernovae (SN Ia) are powerful stellar explosions that provide important distance indicators in cosmology. Recently, we proposed a new SN Ia mechanism that involves a nuclear fission chain reaction in an isolated white dwarf (WD). The first solids that form as a WD starts to freeze are actinide rich and potentially support a fission chain reaction. In this Letter, we explore thermonuclear ignition from fission heating. We perform thermal diffusion simulations and find at high densities, above about 7 × 108 g cm−3, that fission heating can ignite carbon burning. This could produce an SN Ia or another kind of astrophysical transient.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberL2
JournalAstrophysical Journal Letters
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Aug 2022
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022. The Author(s). Published by the American Astronomical Society.


We thank Ed Brown, Ezra Booker, Alan Calder, Matt Caplan, Alex Deibel, Erika Holmbeck, Wendell Misch, Matthew Mumpower, Witek Nazarewicz, Rolfe Petschek, Catherine Pilachowski, Tomasz Plewa, and Rebecca Surman for helpful discussions. This work was performed in part at the Aspen Center for Physics, which is supported by National Science Foundation grant PHY-1607611. This research was supported in part by the US Department of Energy Office of Science Office of Nuclear Physics grants DE-FG02-87ER40365 and DE-SC0018083 (NUCLEI SCIDAC).

FundersFunder number
US Department of Energy Office of Science Office of Nuclear PhysicsDE-SC0018083, DE-FG02-87ER40365
National Science FoundationPHY-1607611


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