Physics

Synopsis: Looking for Stardust within the Snow  

August 12, 2019

Iron-60 present in contemporary Antarctic snow was cast in close by supernovae and will assist deduce the construction and origin of interstellar mud clouds.  

Synopsis figure

S. Kipfstuhl/Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Analysis

Someday within the final 20 million years, a number of stars within the photo voltaic neighborhood went supernova, producing clouds of fuel and dirt enriched with radioisotopes. Because the Photo voltaic System passes via such a cloud, a few of this mud falls onto Earth’s floor, the place, below sure circumstances, detectable concentrations can accumulate. That is the case far inland in Antarctica, the place Dominik Koll, of the Technical College of Munich, and colleagues found proof of interstellar mud within the type of a uncommon isotope, iron-60 (60Fe). The discovering might assist pin down the supply of the mud extra exactly and reveal the historical past of the Photo voltaic System’s interactions with its interstellar surroundings.

Koll and colleagues collected 500 kg of snow that was lower than 20 years outdated, melted it, and filtered out the solids. The researchers incinerated the residues and used a mass spectrometer to measure the presence of 60Fe and manganese-53 (53Mn). The latter isotope is produced with 60Fe when cosmic rays strike interplanetary mud. However the researchers discovered far more 60Fe in comparison with 53Mn than can be anticipated from this “native” supply. The workforce additionally calculated the likelihood that 60Fe from nuclear weapons and energy crops had contaminated the snow, however they decided that the presence of artificially produced isotopes must be negligible. The probably supply, they are saying, is interstellar mud, which is enriched by 60Fe from supernovae.

The calculated 60Fe inflow matches that deduced for different interstellar-dust deposits present in ocean sediments and lunar soil. Testing for a wider vary of radioisotopes in older ice cores might inform researchers when and the place the supernovae occurred and when the Photo voltaic System entered the native interstellar cloud.

This analysis is printed in Bodily Overview Letters.

–Marric Stephens

Marric Stephens is a contract science author based mostly in Bristol, UK.

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