Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

'Cosmic barometer' could reveal violent events in universe's past

Date:
March 31, 2014
Source:
Imperial College London
Summary:
Scientists have developed a way of reading the universe’s ‘cosmic barometer’ to learn more about ancient violent events in space. Exploding stars, random impacts involving comets and meteorites, and even near misses between two bodies can create regions of great heat and high pressure. Researchers have now developed a method for analysing the pressure experienced by tiny samples of organic material that may have been ejected from dying stars before making a long journey through the cosmos.

Cassiopeia A is the remains of a star that blew up in a supernova event.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/CXC/SAO

Scientists have developed a way of reading the universe's 'cosmic barometer' to learn more about ancient violent events in space.

Exploding stars, random impacts involving comets and meteorites, and even near misses between two bodies can create regions of great heat and high pressure.

Researchers from Imperial College London have now developed a method for analysing the pressure experienced by tiny samples of organic material that may have been ejected from dying stars before making a long journey through the cosmos. The researchers have investigated a type of aromatic hydrocarbon called dimethylnaphthalene, which should enable them to identify violent events in the history of the universe.

Samples of dimethylnaphthalene are found in meteorites. Previously, scientists have only had the ability to investigate how they have been affected by heat. The Imperial researchers say their method for detecting periods when dimethylnaphthalenes have experienced high pressure will now allow for a much more comprehensive analysis of organic materials.

Dr Wren Montgomery, co-author from the Department of Earth Science and Engineering at Imperial College London, says: "The ability to detect high pressure environments in space has tremendous implications for our ability to learn more about the formation of our solar system and the universe. Dimethylnaphthalenes are like microscopic barometers and thermometers recording changes in pressure and heat as they travel through space. Understanding these changes lets us probe their history, and with that, the history of the galaxy."

In the study, the researchers placed a sample of dimethylnaphthalene, the width of a human hair, between the vice like grip of two anvils made out of gem-quality diamonds in a laboratory at the Swiss Light Source. They then applied pressure, recreating the type of high pressure environment that dimethylnaphthalene could experience in space. Using an infrared light from the synchrotron at the facility, Dr Montgomery and her colleagues were able to clearly determine the alterations that happen to the molecular structure of dimethylnaphthalene when experiencing high pressure.

By applying different pressures, the team were able to vary the change in the molecular structure of dimethylnaphthalene, giving an insight into how different types of pressures in space would alter the molecular structure of the organic material.

The researchers also recreated the experiments at the Paul Scherrer Institut in Switzerland and SOLEIL Synchrotron in France to verify their research.

The next step will see the team carrying out more lab work where they will be subjecting other types of aromatic hydrocarbons to a range of pressures experienced in space. Dimethylnaphthalene may not always be present in rock samples, so the researchers say it is important to build up a comprehensive catalogue of all aromatic hydrocarbons to understand more about high pressure zones.

This catalogue would be used by scientists in the field to detect molecular markers in their samples that indicate a particular pressure range. Combined with data about the mineralogy and chemistry of the space rock that the aromatic hydrocarbons are encased in, scientists could then deduce the types of violent events that the sample may have been exposed to many millions or billions of years ago on its way to Earth.

The team also believe that their new technique could be applied on Mars, potentially using the existing technology on-board roving laboratories such as the one on the Mars Science Laboratory Mission to glean information about sources of organic matter on the red planet. Recognising the pressures recorded in the aromatic hydrocarbons can help to reveal whether it came from processes generated from ancient living organisms.

Professor Mark Sephton, co-author from the Department of Earth Science and Engineering at Imperial, says: "We now have another instrument to add to our celestial toolbox, which will help us to learn more about high pressure environments in space. Massive heat and pressure waves arcing out through space from cataclysmic events leave an indelible record in these cosmic barometers. It is really exciting to know that we now have a technique at our disposal that will help to reveal pivotal moments in the universe's history."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Imperial College London. The original article was written by Colin Smith. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Wren Montgomery, Jonathan S. Watson, Mark Sephton. An organic cosmo-barometer: distinct pressure and temperature effects for methyl substituted polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. The Astrophysical Journal, April 1, 2014

Cite This Page:

Imperial College London. "'Cosmic barometer' could reveal violent events in universe's past." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 31 March 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/03/140331083736.htm>.
Imperial College London. (2014, March 31). 'Cosmic barometer' could reveal violent events in universe's past. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 1, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/03/140331083736.htm
Imperial College London. "'Cosmic barometer' could reveal violent events in universe's past." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/03/140331083736.htm (accessed August 1, 2014).

Share This




More Space & Time News

Friday, August 1, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Supply Ship Takes Off for International Space Station

Supply Ship Takes Off for International Space Station

AFP (July 30, 2014) The European Space Agency's fifth Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV-5) is takes off to the International Space Station on an Ariane 5 rocket from French Guiana. Duration: 00:34 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Rocket Launches Into Space With Cargo Ship

Raw: Rocket Launches Into Space With Cargo Ship

AP (July 30, 2014) Arianespace launched a rocket Tuesday from French Guiana carrying a robotic cargo ship to deliver provisions to the International Space Station. (July 30) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
In Virginia, the Rise of a New Space Coast

In Virginia, the Rise of a New Space Coast

AP (July 30, 2014) Every summer, tourists make the pilgrimage to Chincoteague Island, Va. to see wild ponies cross the Assateague Channel. But, it's the rockets sending to supplies to the International Space Station that are making this a year-round destination. (July 30) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
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

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