Dust Grains Could Be Remnants of Ancient Stellar Explosions

Researchers have analyzed microscopic dust particles found in meteorites on Earth that are believed to originate from supernova explosions before our Sun was formed.

The experimental nuclear physics research has uncovered clues about the origins of these grains, known as “pre-solar grains.” Scientists experimented and studied exotic radioactive nuclei that have the greatest influence on the production of silicon isotopes in supernovae. More specifically, researchers wanted to investigate whether the dust grains may have formed in a classical nova – an explosion on the surface of a small star which is part of a binary star system (two star system). [Astronomers Discover the Most Luminous Supernova Ever Seen]


Supernova remnant Cassiopeia A. Image credit: NASA Goddard

The explosion would have ejected dust and gas into the vast space between stars. Some of that material would have been used to create solar systems like our own.

“There is a recycling process going on here,” said assistant professor Christopher Wrede at Michigan State University.”When stars die, they spew out material in the form of dust and gas, which then gets recycled into future generations of stars and planets.”

Scientists carried out experiments on the dust grains to identify exotic radioactive nuclei that are critical in producing silicon isotopes in novae. The team found that the grains contain unusually high amounts of the isotope silicon-30.

Silicon-30 is a rare type of silicon on Earth, with silicon-28 being the most common.

Researchers know that silicon-30 is produced within classical novae, but they haven’t been able to calculate the nuclear reaction rates in the explosion to be sure how much silicon-30 is created. Because of this, scientists can’t definitively say the dust grains came from a classical nova. Subsequently, researchers plan to use the new analysis, along with a computer model of a classical nova, to gather more evidence.

“These particular grains are potential messengers from classical novae that allow us to study these events in an unconventional way,” Wrede said. “Normally what you would do is point your telescope at a nova and look at the light.”

“But if you can actually hold a piece of the star in your hand and study it in detail, that opens a whole new window on these types of stellar explosions.”

Material provided by Michigan State University.

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