Baku, May 21, AZERTAC
A strange extraterrestrial space rock unearthed in the Sahara Desert could be the first evidence on Earth for a rare type of supernova.
According to Live Science, the chemical composition of the Hypatia stone, which was first discovered in Egypt in 1996, suggests it may contain dust and gas that once surrounded an enormous type of supernova, the spectacular explosion of a dying star.
Type Ia supernovas typically take place inside dust clouds where a white dwarf, or the shriveled husk of a collapsed star, shares an orbit with a larger, younger star that still has some fuel to burn.
The smaller and denser white dwarf uses its immense gravitational pull to snatch some of the younger star’s fuel, which it gorges on relentlessly, stretching the younger star into a teardrop shape.
Once formed, likely somewhere in the outer solar system, the rock eventually hurtled to Earth, shattering into fragments as it landed.
To figure out where the rock came from, the researchers performed a chemical analysis of a tiny sample of the Hypatia stone using non-destructive techniques. These revealed that the rock had unusually low amounts of silicon, chromium and manganese — elements that are rare in the inner solar system — while also having abnormally high levels of iron, sulfur, phosphorus, copper, and vanadium for objects in our cosmic neighborhood.
An exhaustive search of star data and modeling left the team with no other likely explanation for the rock’s origin than a type Ia supernova, which would explain the stone's unusual element concentrations.
The ratios of eight of the 15 elements analyzed by the researchers (silicon, sulfhur, calcium, titanium, vanadium, chromium, manganese and nickel) fit very closely to the concentrations predicted for a white dwarf explosion.
Six of the stone’s elements — aluminum, phosphorus, chlorine, potassium, copper, and zinc — are present at concentrations that ranged from 10 to 100 times what would be expected for a type Ia supernova.
The researchers think this could point to the supernova’s origins as a red giant star that preserved more of its original elemental composition than the models predicted.
The scientists published their findings on the weird alien rock in a forthcoming issue of the journal Icarus.
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