By: April Carson
According to a new study, a space rock discovered more than two decades ago may be the first physical evidence of a rare sort of powerful stellar explosion known as a Type Ia supernova.
Type Ia supernovae are thought to occur when a white dwarf star in a binary system accretes matter from its companion star, eventually leading to a runaway nuclear fusion reaction that causes the star to violently collapse in on itself. These explosions are incredibly important in astrophysics because they are used as "standard candles" to measure cosmic distances.
In 1996, a geologist working in Egypt's Sahara Desert discovered a tiny pebble that scientists later determined to be extraterrestrial in origin, since it included unknown mineral compounds not found on Earth anywhere else. In the latest research, scientists at the University of Johannesburg in South Africa posit that this rock — known as the Hypatia stone after an ancient Greek philosopher and astronomer — may be the first physical evidence of a Type Ia supernova, one of the universe's most powerful events.
The researchers then dug deeper, continuing to examine the stone's origin and development. They added that the stone did not originate on Earth, from a meteorite or comet, or in any other part of the solar system, according to studies dating back to 2013, 2015 and 2018.
The scientists used a proton beam, a high-energy particle accelerator, to analyze the Hypatia stone for the first time. The discovery of 15 elements in greater detail than ever before using a proton beam has allowed them to reverse engineer the areas from which the stone could have originated, employing elimination.
In short, the new study found that the Hypatia stone is likely from a white dwarf star in our own Milky Way galaxy and was created during a thermonuclear explosion, or a Type Ia supernova.
"This is the first time that we have had solid proof of a particular type of supernova explosion," said lead author of the new study Mario Rivetta, a postdoctoral researcher at Curtin University in Australia.
The amount of silicon in the Hypatia stone was extremely minimal, at less than 1% of what would be expected for a creation from our solar system. The amounts of chromium, manganese, iron, sulfur, copper, and vanadium were not typical of material originating from within our solar system.
"We discovered a consistent pattern of trace element abundances that is distinct from anything found in the solar system, whether primitive or advanced. "Lead study author Jan Kramers, a geochemist at the University of Johannesburg, said in a statement. "Neither asteroids nor meteors fit this description." So we looked outside the solar system next."
They kept trying to narrow down the possible sources, including interstellar dust in the Milky Way, a red giant star, and even a Type II supernova, which is when a massive star runs out of fuel and then explodes. Each of these possibilities was ruled out by the Hypatia stone's composition.
The researchers examined whether the origin might be a Type Ia supernova, an ultrapowerful nuclear detonation that occurs when a dense, dim stellar remnant known as a white dwarf in a binary system blows up with such force that the white dwarf is destroyed. Theoretically, once those atoms congeal with dust from the white dwarf's nebula, the resulting rocky material would have a highly unique chemical profile, according to scientists.
The chemical signature of the Hypatia stone was determined to be quite similar to that of a Type Ia supernova, according on the scientists' findings. However, they were not perfect matches. The scientists suggest that the Hypatia stone could be a "mixture of debris from more than one Type Ia supernova," or that it might have come from a different type of stellar explosion entirely.
The scientists detailed, "Proportions were 10 to 100 times greater than predicted theoretical model ranges in six of the 15 elements. Aluminum, phosphorus, chlorine, potassium, copper, and zinc are examples of these."
After further study, the researchers hope to explain those odd readings. In the meanwhile, they're excited about the potential supernova evidence and what it might reveal about the solar system's genesis.
"It may be as important, perhaps even more so, to note that a single mysterious 'parcel' of dust from outer space might have been incorporated in the solar nebula that formed our solar system, without being fully mixed," Kramers continued. "This runs counter to the accepted belief that dust in our solar system was thoroughly combined."
The researchers note that the significance of their find is twofold. Not only does it suggest that our solar system may have formed from the debris of a rare supernova, but it also provides tangible evidence of such an event.
"This is the first physical proof we have of a supernova impinging on our solar system," Kramers said.
While the research is still in its early stages, the team is hopeful that their work will help unlock further secrets about our solar system's formation.
The group's study is now available in the August 2022 edition of Icarus.
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About the Blogger:
April Carson is the daughter of Billy Carson. She received her bachelor's degree in Social Sciences from Jacksonville University, where she was also on the Women's Basketball team. She now has a successful clothing company that specializes in organic baby clothes and other items. Take a look at their most popular fall fashions on bossbabymav.com
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