Academics Develop New Method to Determine the Origin of Stardust in Meteorites

Related Articles

Meteorites are critical to understanding the beginning of our solar system and how it has evolved over time.

However, some meteorites contain grains of stardust that predate the formation of our solar system and are now providing important information about how the elements in the universe formed.

In a study published by Physical Review Letters, researchers from the University of Surrey detail how they made a key discovery connected to the “pre-solar grains” found in primitive meteorites. This discovery has provided new insights into the nature of stellar explosions and the origin of the chemical elements. It has also provided a new method for astronomical research.

 

Dr Gavin Lotay, Nuclear Astrophysicist and Director of Learning and Teaching at the University of Surrey, said: “Tiny pre-solar grains, about one micron in size, are the residuals of stellar explosions that occurred in the distant past, long before our solar system existed. Stellar debris eventually became wedged into meteorites that, in turn, crashed into the Earth.”

One of the most frequent stellar explosions to occur in our galaxy is called a nova, which involves a binary star system consisting of a main sequence star orbiting a white dwarf star – an extremely dense star that can be the size of Earth but has the mass of our Sun. Matter from the main star is continually pulled away by the white dwarf because of its intense gravitational field. This deposited material initiates a thermonuclear explosion every 1,000 to 100,000 years and the white dwarf ejects the equivalent of the mass of more than thirty Earths into interstellar space. In contrast, a supernova involves a single collapsing star and, when it explodes, it ejects almost all of its mass.

As novae continually enrich our galaxy with chemical elements, they have been the subject of intense astronomical investigations for decades. Much has been learned from them about the origin of the heavier elements, for example. However, a number of key puzzles remain.

Dr Lotay continues: “A new way of studying these phenomena is by analysing the chemical and isotopic composition of the pre-solar grains in meteorites. Of particular importance to our research is a specific nuclear reaction that occurs in novae and supernovae — proton capture on an isotope of chlorine — which we can only indirectly study in the laboratory.”

In conducting their experiment, the team, led by Dr Lotay and Surrey PhD student Adam Kennington (also a former Surrey undergraduate), pioneered a new research approach. It involves the use of the Gamma-Ray Energy Tracking In-beam Array (GRETINA) coupled to the Fragment Mass Analyzer at the Argonne Tandem Linac Accelerator System (ATLAS), USA. GRETINA is a state-of-the-art detection system able to trace the path of gamma rays (g-ray) emitted from nuclear reactions. It is one of only two such systems in the world that utilise this novel technology.

Using GRETINA, the team completed the first detailed g-ray spectroscopy study of an astronomically important nucleus, argon-34, and were able to calculate the expected abundance of sulfur isotopes produced in nova explosions.

Adam Kennington said: “It’s extremely exciting to think that, by studying the microscopic nuclear properties of argon-34, it may now be possible to determine whether a particular grain of stardust comes from a nova or a supernova.”

The research was supported by the UK Science and Technology Facilities Council and the US Department of Energy.

University of Surrey

Header Image Credit : Public Domain

Download the HeritageDaily mobile application on iOS and Android

More on this topic

LATEST NEWS

Sungbo’s Eredo – The “Queen of Sheba’s Embankment”

Sungbo’s Eredo is one of the largest man-made monuments in Africa, consisting of a giant system of ditches and embankments that surrounds the entire ljebu Kingdom in the rain forests of south-western Nigeria.

Woolly Mammoths May Have Shared the Landscape With First Humans in New England

Woolly mammoths may have walked the landscape at the same time as the earliest humans in what is now New England, according to a Dartmouth study published in Boreas.

Prehistoric killing machine exposed

Judging by its massive, bone-crushing teeth, gigantic skull and powerful jaw, there is no doubt that the Anteosaurus, a premammalian reptile that roamed the African continent 265 to 260 million years ago - during a period known as the middle Permian - was a ferocious carnivore.

Noushabad – The Hidden Underground City

Noushabed, also called Oeei or Ouyim is an ancient subterranean city, built beneath the small town of Nushabad in present-day Iran.

10 British Iron Age Hill Forts

A hill fort is a type of earthworks used as a fortified refuge or defended settlement, located to exploit a rise in elevation for defensive advantage.

Stabiae – The Roman Resort Buried by Mount Vesuvius

Stabiae was an ancient Roman town and seaside resort near Pompeii, that was largely buried during the AD 79 eruption of Mount Vesuvius in present-day Italy.

Astronomers Accurately Measure the Temperature of Red Supergiant Stars

Red supergiants are a class of star that end their lives in supernova explosions. Their lifecycles are not fully understood, partly due to difficulties in measuring their temperatures. For the first time, astronomers develop an accurate method to determine the surface temperatures of red supergiants.

Researchers Overturn Hypothesis That Ancient Mammal Ancestors Moved Like Modern Lizards

The backbone is the Swiss Army Knife of mammal locomotion. It can function in all sorts of ways that allows living mammals to have remarkable diversity in their movements.

Popular stories

Ani – The Abandoned Medieval City

Ani is a ruined medieval city, and the former capital of the Bagratid Armenian kingdom, located in the Eastern Anatolia region of the Kars province in present-day Turkey.

Interactive Map of Earth’s Asteroid and Meteor Impact Craters

Across the history of our planet, around 190 terrestrial impact craters have been identified that still survive the Earth’s geological processes, with the most recent event occurring in 1947 at the Sikhote-Alin Mountains of south-eastern Russia.

The Sunken Town of Pavlopetri

Pavlopetri, also called Paulopetri, is a submerged ancient town, located between the islet of Pavlopetri and the Pounta coast of Laconia, on the Peloponnese peninsula in southern Greece.

Exploring the Avebury Stone Circle Landscape

The area was designated part of the Stonehenge, Avebury and Associated Sites by UNESCO in 1986, in recognition for one of the most architecturally sophisticated stone circles in the world, in addition to the rich Neolithic, and Bronze age remains found nearby, such as the West Kennet Avenue, Beckhampton Avenue, West Kennet Long Barrow, the Sanctuary, and Windmill Hill.