Scientists may have solved another mystery related to the origin of cosmic dust and its role in early universe’s formation. According to new findings, early cosmic dust is the byproduct of supernovas – massive explosion of dying stars – that may have contributed to the creation of new stars and other celestial bodies.
Moreover, the new study revealed that ancient cosmic dust was able to survive the tremendous shockwaves that supernova explosions usually trigger when they occur.
Previous studies weren’t able to decipher whether early cosmic dust could have withstood supernovas’ colossal shockwaves and be able to morph into new space bodies, such as planets and new stars.
When a dying star chooses to end its existence through a supernova, rather than quietly and slowly die off, its last moments are so intense and energetic that its explosion can briefly outshine an entire galaxy. A supernova, scientists explained, usually can emit as much energy as a star the size our sun does in its entire life span.
Also, the sudden stellar burst is so violent that it can spew stellar material at speeds of up to 18,600 miles per second, which is 10 percent of the speed of light, triggering a monster shockwave and huge amounts of radiation.
According to past studies, supernovas were expected to sweep up almost all cosmic dust resulted in the process, which is known as supernova remnant. Those studies revealed that more than 80 percent of supernova remnant was destroyed by “reverse shocks” generated by supernovas. These shocks usually occur when supernova shockwaves rebound off the cooler and denser matter that usually surrounds the stellar bursts.
Ryan Lau, astrophysicist at Cornell University and researcher involved in the new findings, said that his team’s discovery shed more light on how cosmic dust turns into “seeds” for new stars and planets after a supernova explosion.
Mr. Lau explained that other theories held that cosmic dust may have an alternative source – stars less energetic that do not go supernova, but they gradually blow off their content to form new space dust. But, according to Mr. Lau, this process is very slow and inefficient.
Currently, the findings of Mr. Lau and his research team confirmed prior studies on supernova origin of cosmic dust. Astronomers believe that supernovas can turn into real dust factories.
Scientists acknowledged that they were very surprised by the findings, which have shaken up their prejudices about supernovas and their outcomes. Mr. Lau said that he used to believe that a supernova created a very “harsh” and “violent” environment that was unsuitable to the development of other stars and planets from the cosmic dust caught in the explosion.
During their research, scientists used the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) telescope, which is carried by a tweaked Boeing 747SP jet. They employed the telescope to survey a cloud of dust resulted in a supernova at the center of the Milky Way more than 10,000 years ago. The remnant cloud of dust was dubbed Sgr A East.
Mr. Lau explained that his team flew in the jumbo jet at 600 mph and a 45,000-foot altitude to take pictures of the supernova remnant, which is more than 27,000 light-years away from the Earth.
“No other currently operating observatory other than the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy could detect this dust,”
Mr. Lau added.