A distant supernova, called SN2010jl, may provide the secret to the origin of cosmic dust. This material is an essential building block for the creation of planets, asteroid and stars.
Supernovas are the exploding remnants of the most massive stars in the Universe. These events were considered, by most astrophysicists, to be too hot and violent to produce much cosmic dust. This material was thought to be created in slower-moving, cooler processes throughout space. As stars around the size of our own sun die, they expel gas and dust, not enough of that material escapes to account for much of the dust between the stars.
Astronomers using the European Southern Observatory studied the remnants of the distant supernova, in order to understand the makeup of a nebula soon after an explosion. They examined how dust around the stellar artifact absorbs both visible and infrared light. They found dust grains formed in a two-step process around the stellar remains.
As a massive dying star starts to collapse, gas and dust pass into space. Later, when the stellar body explodes, a shock wave erupts from the star, and strikes the sphere of gas surrounding the star, destroying any dust present in the shell. A dense aftermath of material following the event creates new dust from atoms of carbon. This is the first stage of production, according to the team. The second step takes place over the next few decades, as cooling clouds trigger the formation of additional material.
Space dust around the dead star was found to be larger than similar material existing today in the Milky Way. This greater size could allow dust to survive the hazards of a supernova.
Dust around supernova remnants presents problems for astronomers trying to view the objects in the system. Only certain wavelengths can penetrate the cloud, limiting the types of observations that can be performed.
"Observations show that there is a lot of dust in galaxies, but it is unclear how it was produced," Christa Gall from Aarhus University in Denmark, told Space.com.
Ironically, observations of many objects in the Milky way are usually blocked - by space dust. Therefore, most of the supernovas studied in our galaxy are seen between 400 and 1,000 years after the massive burst.
The supernova 2010jl occurred in the galaxy UGC 5189A, located roughly 160 million light years from our home planet. It erupted in a flash, 10 times as bright as a typical supernova, as seen in visible light.
Study of SN2010jl and investigation of how these massive stellar explosions could help produce space dust was profiled in the journal Nature.