Prof. Fred Walter
Department of Physics and Astronomy
7:30 pm Room 001 ESS Building
Friday, October 29, 2010

Thermonuclear Bombs in Space: The Novae

About a dozen times a year an inconspicuous star in our galaxy will brighten a tenthousandfold, and then slowly fade away. Such stars are called novae (from the Latin for new stars). Their appearances give lie to the myth of the constancy of the stars. The classical novae, distinct from the supernovae, are the visible manifestations of thermonuclear explosions on the surface of a white dwarf star in a binary star system. I will explain the evolutionary processes that lead some stars to this precarious state and the basic theory behind the explosion. The "nova problem" has long been considered a solved problem in astrophysics. But I will present new results from 6 years of monitoring some southern novae using NASA X-ray telescopes and the SMARTS observatory that show that the novae still have surprises for us.

Prof. Walter, a resident of East Setauket, studies star birth, stellar weather, and star death using the CHANDRA and NEWTON X-ray Observatories, the Hubble Space Telescope, and telescopes in Hawaii and Chile. He has been a professor of Astronomy at Stony Brook since 1989.