Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Dusty Winds Bursting Out Of Black Holes May Have Seeded Planets, Life

Date:
October 11, 2007
Source:
NASA/Spitzer Space Telescope
Summary:
The hit song that proclaimed, "All we are is dust in the wind," may have some cosmic truth to it. New findings from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope suggest that space dust -- the same stuff that makes up living creatures and planets -- was manufactured in large quantities in the winds of black holes that populated our early universe. The findings are a significant new clue in an unsolved mystery: where did all the dust in the young universe originate?

Dusty grains -- including tiny specks of the minerals found in the gemstones peridot, sapphires, and rubies -- can be seen blowing in the winds of a quasar, or active black hole, in this artist's concept.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle (SSC)

The hit song that proclaimed, "All we are is dust in the wind," may have some cosmic truth to it. New findings from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope suggest that space dust -- the same stuff that makes up living creatures and planets -- was manufactured in large quantities in the winds of black holes that populated our early universe.

The findings are a significant new clue in an unsolved mystery: where did all the dust in the young universe originate?

"We were surprised to find what appears to be freshly made dust entrained in the winds that blow away from supermassive black holes," said Ciska Markwick-Kemper of the University of Manchester, U.K. Markwick-Kemper is lead author of a new paper appearing in an upcoming issue of the Astrophysical Journal Letters. "This could explain where the dust came from that was needed to make the first generations of stars in the early universe."

Space dust is essential to the formation of planets, stars, galaxies and even life as we know it. The dust in our corner of the universe was piped out by dying stars that were once a lot like our sun. But, when the universe was less than a tenth of its present age of 13.7 billion years, sun-like stars hadn't been around long enough to die and make dust. So, what produced the precious substance back when the universe was just a toddler?

Theorists have long-postulated that short-lived, massive exploding stars, or supernovae, might be the source of this mysterious dust, while others have proposed that a type of energetic, growing supermassive black hole, called a quasar, could be a contributing factor. A quasar consists of a supermassive black hole surrounded by a dusty doughnut-shaped cloud that feeds it. Theoretically, dust could form in the outer portion of the winds that slowly blow away from this doughnut cloud.

"Quasars are like the Cookie Monster," said co-author Sarah Gallagher of the University of California at Los Angeles, who is currently a visiting astronomer at the University of Western Ontario, Canada. "They are messy eaters, and they can consume less matter than they spit out in the form of winds."

Nobody has found conclusive proof that either quasar winds or supernovae can create enough dust to explain what is observed in the early universe. Markwick-Kemper and her team decided to test the former theory and investigate a quasar, called PG2112+059, located in the center of a galaxy about 8 billion light-years way. Although this particular quasar is not located in the early universe, because it is closer, it is an easier target for addressing the question of whether quasars can make dust. The team used Spitzer's infrared spectrograph instrument to split apart infrared light from the quasar and look for signs of various minerals.

They found a mix of the ingredients that make up glass, sand, marble and even rubies and sapphires. While the mineral constituting glass was expected, the minerals for sand, marble and rubies were a surprise. Why? These minerals are not typically detected floating around galaxies, suggesting they could have been freshly formed in the winds rushing away from the quasar.

For instance, the ingredient that makes up sand, crystalline silicate, doesn't survive for long free-floating in space. Radiation from stars zaps the minerals back to an amorphous, glass-like state. The presence of crystalline silicate therefore suggests something -- possibly the quasars winds -- is churning out the newly made substance.

Markwick-Kemper and her team say the case of the missing dust is not firmly shut. They hope to study more quasars for further evidence of their dust-making abilities. Also, according to the astronomers, quasars may not be the only source of dust in the early universe. "Supernovae might have been more important for creating dust in some environments, while quasars were more important in others," said Markwick-Kemper. "For now, we are very excited to have identified the different species of dust in a quasar billions of light-years away."

Other authors of this paper include Dean Hines of the Space Science Institute, Boulder, Colo., and Jeroen Bouwman of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, Heidelberg, Germany. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., manages the Spitzer Space Telescope mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Science operations are conducted at the Spitzer Science Center at the California Institute of Technology, also in Pasadena. Caltech manages JPL for NASA. Spitzer's infrared spectrograph was built by Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y. Its development was led by Jim Houck of Cornell.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by NASA/Spitzer Space Telescope. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

NASA/Spitzer Space Telescope. "Dusty Winds Bursting Out Of Black Holes May Have Seeded Planets, Life." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 11 October 2007. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/10/071010125734.htm>.
NASA/Spitzer Space Telescope. (2007, October 11). Dusty Winds Bursting Out Of Black Holes May Have Seeded Planets, Life. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 25, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/10/071010125734.htm
NASA/Spitzer Space Telescope. "Dusty Winds Bursting Out Of Black Holes May Have Seeded Planets, Life." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/10/071010125734.htm (accessed July 25, 2014).

Share This




More Space & Time News

Friday, July 25, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

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
Raw: ISS Cargo Ship Launches in Kazakhstan

Raw: ISS Cargo Ship Launches in Kazakhstan

AP (July 23, 2014) The Progress 56 cargo ship launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan Wednesday. NASA says it will deliver cargo and crew supplies to the International Space Station. (July 23) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Cargo Craft Undocks from Space Station

Raw: Cargo Craft Undocks from Space Station

AP (July 22, 2014) A Russian Soyuz cargo-carrying spacecraft undocked from the International Space Station on Monday. The craft is due to undergo about ten days of engineering tests before it burns up in the Earth's atmosphere. (July 22) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
NASA Ceremony Honors Moon Walker Neil Armstrong

NASA Ceremony Honors Moon Walker Neil Armstrong

AP (July 21, 2014) NASA honored one of its most famous astronauts Monday by renaming a historic building at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. It now bears the name of Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon. (July 21) Video provided by AP
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