Rare stellar explosions created half of the calcium in the universe including the minerals that make up our bones and teeth, study reveals
- Researchers say calcium rich supernova produced half the universe’s calcium
- These rare stellar events also created the nutrient in our bones and teeth
- Recently, astronomers observed SN 2019ehk 55 million light years from Earth
- The team says this supernova emitted the most calcium ever observed
Rare stellar explosions produced half the calcium in the universe, including what is in our teeth and bones, according to a new study.
The unique bursts, called ‘calcium-rich supernovae,’ remained elusive among the scientific world, but a recent examination provided the first glimpse into its last month of life and detonation.
Although calcium comes from stars, calcium-rich supernovae produce massive amounts of the nutrient all living things need to survive in just seconds.
Researchers have recently located SN 2019ehk, 55 million light years from Earth, which emitted the most calcium ever observed in a singular astrophysical event.
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Rare stellar explosions produced half the calcium in the universe, including what is in our teeth and bones The unique bursts are called ‘calcium-rich supernovae’ (artist impression)
Wynn Jacobson-Galan, a first-year Northwestern graduate student who led the study, said: ‘These events are so few in number that we have never known what produced calcium-rich supernova.’
‘By observing what this star did in its final month before it reached its critical, tumultuous end, we peered into a place previously unexplored, opening new avenues of study within transient science.’
SN2019K was spotted by Joel Shepherd while observing the spiral galaxy Messier 100, located 55 million light years from our planet.
The bright burst appeared in the frame as an orange dot, leading him to report the anomaly to a community astronomical survey.
Researchers have recently located SN 2019 ehk, 55 million light years from Earth, which emitted the most calcium ever observed in a singular astrophysical event. Pictured is an image snapped by the Hubble Space Telescope
‘As soon as the world knew that there was a potential supernova in M100, a global collaboration was ignited,’ Jacobson-Galan said.
‘Every single country with a prominent telescope turned to look at this object.’
Stars produce calcium, but only a small amount is created when it burns through its supply of helium.
Calcium-rich supernovae, on the other hand, produce massive amounts of calcium within seconds.
Raffaella Margutti, senior study author and assistant professor of physics and astronomy in Northwestern’s Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, said: ‘The explosion is trying to cool down.’
‘It wants to give away its energy, and calcium emission is an efficient way to do that.’
This occurs because the hot ball of material created by the explosion is trying to reach an equilibrium with its environment, Jacobson-Galan said.
‘Calcium-rich supernovae produce just enough additional calcium in the explosion to provide an efficient means of emitting photons that in turn release heat,’ he said. ‘Nature chooses the path of least resistance and calcium provides that path when enough of it is present in a supernova.’
And the team found that SN 2019 ehk produced the most calcium ever observed in an event.
‘It wasn’t just calcium rich,’ Margutti said. ‘It was the richest of the rich.’
The Hubble Space Telescope has peered deep into this galaxy 25 years prior, but this was before the explosion occurred and did not register the event.
‘It was likely a white dwarf or very low-mass massive star,’ Jacobson-Galan said. ‘Both of those would be very faint.’
‘Without this explosion, you wouldn’t know that anything was ever there,’ Margutti added. ‘Not even Hubble could see it.’
SUPERNOVAE OCCUR WHEN A GIANT STAR EXPLODES
A supernova occurs when a star explodes, shooting debris and particles into space.
A supernova burns for only a short period of time, but it can tell scientists a lot about how the universe began.
One kind of supernova has shown scientists that we live in an expanding universe, one that is growing at an ever increasing rate.
Scientists have also determined that supernovas play a key role in distributing elements throughout the universe.
In 1987, astronomers spotted a ‘titanic supernova’ in a nearby galaxy blazing with the power of over 100 million suns (pictured)
There are two known types of supernova.
The first type occurs in binary star systems when one of the two stars, a carbon-oxygen white dwarf, steals matter from its companion star.
Eventually, the white dwarf accumulates too much matter, causing the star to explode, resulting in a supernova.
The second type of supernova occurs at the end of a single star’s lifetime.
As the star runs out of nuclear fuel, some of its mass flows into its core.
Eventually, the core is so heavy it can’t stand its own gravitational force and the core collapses, resulting in another giant explosion.
Many elements found on Earth are made in the core of stars and these elements travel on to form new stars, planets and everything else in the universe.