In 1996, a rock from outer space was discovered in the Great Sea of Sand in southwestern Egypt. The rock was strange, even by extraterrestrial standards, and a team of researchers study the chemistry of rock today to propose that it came from a supernova – the bright, explosive collapse of a star.
The rock is named after Hypatia, after a 4th-century Egyptian mathematician. Based on the model of 15 elements in a 3 gram sample of the stone, a A team of researchers suspect that Hypatia came from far beyond our stellar neighborhood and emerged from the dusty gases and detritus that followed the explosion of a distant star. Their research is published in the magazine Icarus.
Researchers believe that Hypatia originated from a Type Ia supernova; these supernovae occur when white dwarfs (the dense little remnants of stars) consume so much matter, often from a nearby star, they explode. This distinguishes Type Ia supernovae from Type II supernovae, in which the core of a large star collapses, causing a massive explosion.
“In a sense, we could say that we ‘caught’ an Ia supernova explosion ‘in the act’, as the gas atoms from the explosion were captured in the surrounding dust cloud, which eventually formed the body. relative of Hypatia,” said Jan Kramers, a geochemist at the University of Johannesburg, in a university Release.
According to the release, the mixture of gas atoms from the supernova and the dust in which the explosion occurred likely formed solid rock around the early stages of our own solar system, billions of years ago. years. Upon entering and impacting Earth, Hypatia’s bedrock shattered, creating the fragment found in 1996.
Kramers has been studying Hypatia for almost a decade. In 2013, argon isotopes of the rock confirmed the extraterrestrial origins of Hypatia, and follow-up studies in 2015 and 2018 indicated that Hypatia was neither from any known comet or meteorite nor from our solar ssystem. Using a proton microprobe, the team inspected the elemental composition of Hypatia. They found that the elements of the rock indicated that it was not even from interstellar dust in our arm of the Milky Way.
Hypatia had too much iron to come from a Ttype II supernova or red giant star. Thus, the researchers surmised that the most likely explanation for Hypatia’s unique combination of silicon, sulfur, calcium, titanium, vanadium, chromium, manganese, iron, and nickel was a Ttype Ia supernova.
Six elements were much more present than the models predict for something that came from a Ttype Ia supernova, however: aluminum, phosphorus, chlorine, potassium, zinc and copper. Kramers believes Hypatia may have inherited these elemental components from the red giant star that preceded the white dwarf that eventually exploded.
New the research was merely exploratory, and fuAnother isotopic analysis of the elements of Hypatia will have to take place in order to test the researchers hypothesis on the origin of the rock.
More: A vanished supernova will reappear in 16 years