Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Smoking Supernovae: Astronomers Claim Solution To A Mystery Of The Universe

Date:
July 24, 2003
Source:
Cardiff University
Summary:
Astronomers from Cardiff University, in Wales, and the Royal Observatory, Edinburgh, Scotland, believe they have solved one of the long-standing mysteries of the Universe - the origins of cosmic dust.

Astronomers from Cardiff University, in Wales, and the Royal Observatory, Edinburgh, Scotland, believe they have solved one of the long-standing mysteries of the Universe - the origins of cosmic dust.

In the latest issue of the science journal Nature, they explain how they have found that some supernovae, or exploding stars, belch out huge quantities of this dust - a discovery which suggests that supernovae were responsible for producing the first solid particles in the Universe.

Originally astronomers thought that dust was mostly made in the winds from cool, giant stars in the late stages of their lives.

Cosmic dust consists of tiny particles of solid material floating around in the space between the stars. It is not the same as house dust but more akin to cigarette smoke. It is responsible for blocking half of all the optical light given off by stars and galaxies. The presence of dust grains around young stars helps them to form and they are also the building blocks of planets.

Project leader Dr Loretta Dunne from Cardiff University said: "The origin of cosmic dust is, in fact, the basic question of the origin of our planet and others. Effectively, we live on a very large collection of cosmic dust grains and yet, until now, we have not been sure where cosmic dust is made."

This 'dusty' cloud has a silver lining, however. The dust converts the stolen starlight it absorbs into light at longer wavelengths. Astronomers can 'see' the dust 'shining' using special instruments which can detect light-waves in the far-infrared and sub-millimetre part of the electromagnetic spectrum (0.1-1mm).

One such camera is SCUBA, a UK-built instrument based at the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope in Hawaii. In recent years SCUBA has been revolutionising our understanding of galaxy formation, finding huge dusty galaxies and quasars at a time when the Universe was only 1/10 of its present age, long before the Earth formed.

"Dust has been swept under the cosmic carpet--for years astronomers have treated it as a nuisance because of the way it hides the light from the stars. Now studies have shown that there is dust right at the edge of the Universe in the earliest stars and galaxies, we realise that we are ignorant of even its basic origin," explained Dr Dunne.

The team of five astronomers from Cardiff University and the Royal Observatory Edinburgh used SCUBA to look for dust in the remains of a recent supernova called Cassiopeia A, which is some 11,000 light years from the Earth. This is the remnant of the explosion of a star some 30 times bigger than the Sun, which took place around 320 years ago.

The remnant consists of a cloud of gas travelling out from the site of the explosion at very high speeds (10,000 kilometres per second). Although astronomers had been searching for dust in supernova remnants for decades, they had used instruments that could only detect dust that was quite warm.

"With SCUBA we can see dust which is very cold," said Dr Steve Eales, Reader in Astrophysics at Cardiff University. "This is because it operates at longer sub-millimetre wavelengths than the infra-red instruments used previously. In the same way that you can only see an iron poker glowing when it has been in the fire, you can only see dust with infra-red cameras when it is warmer than around 25 Kelvin, but SCUBA can see it when it is colder too."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Cardiff University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Cardiff University. "Smoking Supernovae: Astronomers Claim Solution To A Mystery Of The Universe." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 24 July 2003. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2003/07/030723084654.htm>.
Cardiff University. (2003, July 24). Smoking Supernovae: Astronomers Claim Solution To A Mystery Of The Universe. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 29, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2003/07/030723084654.htm
Cardiff University. "Smoking Supernovae: Astronomers Claim Solution To A Mystery Of The Universe." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2003/07/030723084654.htm (accessed July 29, 2014).

Share This




More Space & Time News

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Russia Saves Gecko Sex Satellite, Media Has Some Fun With It

Russia Saves Gecko Sex Satellite, Media Has Some Fun With It

Newsy (July 27, 2014) The satellite is back under ground control after a tense few days, but with a gecko sex experiment on board, the media just couldn't help themselves. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
NASA EDGE: OCO-2 Launch

NASA EDGE: OCO-2 Launch

NASA (July 25, 2014) NASA EDGE webcasts live from Vandenberg AFB for the launch of the Oribiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO) launch. Video provided by NASA
Powered by NewsLook.com
This Week @ NASA, July 25, 2014

This Week @ NASA, July 25, 2014

NASA (July 25, 2014) Apollo 11 celebration, Next Giant Leap anticipation, ISS astronauts appear in the House and more... Video provided by NASA
Powered by NewsLook.com
Space to Ground: Coming and Going

Space to Ground: Coming and Going

NASA (July 25, 2014) One station cargo ship leaves, another arrives, aquatic research and commercial spinoffs. Questions or comments? Use #spacetoground to talk to us. Video provided by NASA
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins