Grain of dead star found in Antarctica will tell us more about the solar system

Researchers have analysed the grain to get more information on the formation of our solar system and Earth.


Billions of years ago, before our solar system was formed, a star exploded and died in space. A grain of dust from that exploding star found its way on a meteorite. Later, that meteorite landed on Earth and it remained there for many years, frozen in Antarctica.

That is until Pierre Haenecour, Associate professor at the University of Arizona and a group of researchers found it and analysed it. The grain is being called LAP-149 and measures 1/25,000th of an inch.

This grain will tell us more about the solar system and how it was formed, according to a study published in the journal Nature Astronomy. It contains "unique constraints on dust formation and thermodynamic conditions in stellar outflows."

 Grain of dead star found in Antarctica will tell us more about the solar system

Measuring 1/25,000th of an inch, the carbon-rich graphite grain (red) revealed an embedded speck of oxygen-rich material (blue), two types of stardust that were thought could not form in the same nova eruption. Image credit: University of Arizona

There are very few presolar grains that have been part of a Novae that survive the huge explosion and heat of a dying star. The chance of finding one on Earth is even rarer.

The possibilities and the information that one can gain from this particle is immeasurable.

A research team lead by Haenecour, using the facilities at the University of Arizona's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory analysed this grain to the atomic level and found that it is rich in a carbon isotope called 13C.

Unfortunately, LAP-149 does not contain enough atoms to determine its exact age, they hope to find a similar, larger specimen in the future.

Pillars of Creation is a photograph taken by the Hubble Space Telescope of elephant trunks of interstellar gas and dust in the Eagle Nebula, specifically the Serpens constellation, some 6,500–7,000 light years from Earth. Image credit: Wikipedia

Pillars of Creation is a photograph taken by the Hubble Space Telescope of elephant trunks of interstellar gas and dust in the Eagle Nebula 6,500–7,000 light years from Earth. Image credit: Wikipedia

"If we could date these objects someday, we could get a better idea of what our galaxy looked like in our region and what triggered the formation of the solar system," said Tom Zega, Associate professor in the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory. "Perhaps we owe our existence to a nearby supernova explosion, compressing clouds of gas and dust with its shockwave, igniting stars and creating stellar nurseries, similar to what we see in Hubble's famous 'Pillars of Creation' picture."

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