Cosmic dust forms in supernova explosions

Cosmic dust forms in supernova explosions

Credit: Cardiff University

Scientists claim to have solved a long-standing mystery about the formation of cosmic dust, the building block of stars and planets, throughout the universe.

Cosmic dust contains tiny fragments or organic matter and is scattered throughout the universe. The dust is formed mainly in the stars and is then chased by a slow wind or a massive star explosion.

Until now, astronomers did not understand why such a quantity of cosmic dust existed in the interstellar medium, theoretical estimates suggesting that it should be erased by supernova explosions.

A supernova is an event that occurs during the violent death of a star. It's one of the most powerful events in the universe. It produces a shock wave that destroys almost everything in its path.

Yet new research published in the Monthly Notices from the Royal Astronomical Society observed the survival of cosmic dust around the nearest supernova explosion detected, Supernova 1987A.

Observations made with the help of NASA's research aircraft, the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), have detected cosmic dust in a separate set of Rings forming part of Supernova 1987A.

The results seem to suggest that there is a rapid growth of cosmic dust in the rings, causing the team to think that the dust could actually reform after being destroyed as a result of a wave explosive supernova.

This immediacy – the fact that the post-shock environment may be ready to form or reform dust – has never been considered before, and could be essential to fully understand how cosmic dust is created and destroyed.

"We were already aware of the slow dust in the heart of 1987A," said Dr. Mikako Matsuura, lead author of the School of Physics and Astronomy paper.

"It's formed from heavy elements created in the heart of the dead star, but SOFIA's observations tell us something completely new."

Cosmic dust particles can be heated from a few tens to hundreds of degrees, which makes them shine at the infrared and millimeter wavelengths. Observations on millimeter dust emissions can usually be made from the ground using telescopes; However, observations in the infrared are almost impossible to interfere with water and carbon dioxide in the Earth 's atmosphere.

By flying over most of the obscuration molecules, SOFIA gives access to parts of the infrared spectrum not available from the ground.

Explore further:
The center of the Milky Way unveils a supernova "dust factory"

More information:
Mikako Matsuura et al. SOFIA observations in the mid-infrared of Supernova 1987A in 2016 – forward shocks and possible formation of dust in the post-shock region, Monthly Notices from the Royal Astronomical Society (2018). DOI: 10.1093 / mnras / sty2734

Journal reference:
Monthly Notices from the Royal Astronomical Society

Provided by:
Cardiff University

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