Astronomers first found radioactive molecule in space

© NRAO/AUI/NSF; S. DagnelloТак the artist imagined the collision of two stars that produced large amounts of radioactive aluminum-26Astronomers first found radioactive molecule in space© NRAO/AUI/NSF; S. DagnelloПодпишись to daily updates RIA Science

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Scientists have recorded traces of radioactive molecules in space, watching one of the most unusual stars in the milky Way, resulting from the collision of two other luminaries. Their findings were presented in the journal Nature Astronomy.

«In fact, we were able to «open» the inside of a star, torn apart three centuries ago, and found in her an active source of atoms of one of the most rare and short-lived isotopes of aluminum. The discovery of aluminium-26 in its remains will help us to better understand how flows in the chemical evolution of our Galaxy,» says Tomasz Kaminski Tomasz (Tomasz Kaminski) from Harvard University (USA).

After the Big Bang, the Universe existed only three elements — hydrogen, helium and trace amounts of lithium. However, after 300 million years, when the first stars began to appear heavier elements born in the course of thermonuclear reactions in the depths of light.

Today scientists believe that all elements heavier than iron, including gold, uranium and other heavy and rare earth metals originated mostly in supernova explosions, as the temperature and pressure inside stars is too low for their rapid formation.

On the other hand, recent attempts to estimate the amount of gold and other heavy elements generated by supernovae, suggests that the past form of these substances is extremely slow. This points to the fact that their birth could have been involved in other, more exotic processes such as the collision of neutron stars.

Kaminski and his colleagues have discovered another source of astronomical «metals», directly associated with the formation of Earth and other planets, observing one of the most bizarre stars in the galaxy, CK luminary in the constellation of Chanterelles.

She represents the ancient «new star», which was opened and studied by professional astronomers in the late 17th century. This word, scientists do not understand the new light, and existing stars whose brightness rose sharply and then fell under the influence of any internal processes or interactions with other celestial bodies.

Unlike most of the other new stars, CK Vulpeculae broke out in 1670 as a result of interactions between white dwarfs and ordinary stars, and because of the even more catastrophic event of a frontal collision of two small stars.

This is a «cosmic accident» led to the explosion, almost not conceding on the strength of a supernova and the birth of a new sun, a small red or orange dwarf. This star was several thousand times dimmer than the flash, which lasted about two years, because of what CK Vulpeculae astronomers can’t find so far.

Factory of isotopes

As noted by Kaminsky, his team was not interested in the star itself, and the glowing nebula, which arose after the explosion. Inside it, as scientists have long suspected, must be a huge number of rare isotopes of different elements occur at the moment of collision bodies when temperature and pressure inside their matter has reached record high values.

Of particular interest to scientists is aluminium-26, one of the rarest isotopes of this metal on Earth, not existing in nature today. This kind of metal, according to physics, is formed only during supernova explosions and in the depths of super hot «shaggy» light, the so-called star wolf-Rayet, and he rapidly turns into a stable magnesium-26 in a few million years after birth.

The primary matter of the Solar system, as shown by the proportion of the isotopes of magnesium in the matter of the oldest meteorites contain large amounts of aluminium-26. This gave scientists one of the mysteries of the history of formation of Earth and other planets – where did this isotope, if a supernova was his only source, and where could be born the Sun.

Kaminsky and his colleagues were able to partially solve this puzzle, watching the dust «shroud» CK Vulpeculae using a microwave telescope, APEX, is installed on the Chilean highland of the chajnantor plateau. Like its «big sister», the Observatory ALMA, it can follow the movement of even the most cold and small molecules in such dense aggregations of gas and dust.

As it turned out, inside the nebula, surrounding CK Vulpeculae, there is a sufficiently large quantity of this metal in the form of molecules containing one atom of aluminium-26 and fluorine. Their total mass, according to astrophysicists, there was a rather large – about 3.4 quintillion tons, equivalent to a quarter of the mass of Pluto.

They, as noted by Kaminsky, became the first radioactive molecules that scientists found in space, and the first indication that not all the aluminum-26 is produced by supernovae and hot bodies. Further observation of this extraordinary star, as scientists hope, will help to understand what role such collisions of stars play in the chemical evolution of the Galaxy and the formation of potentially habitable planets.