By stars that went supernovae at the end of their life cycles
Space news (astrophysics: creation and distribution of heavier chemical elements; supernovae) – watching as the elements of creation were spread evenly across millions of light-years more than ten billion years ago –
Astronomers using Japan’s Suzaku X-ray Satellite to survey hot, x-ray emitting gas in the Virgo Galaxy Cluster over 54 million light-years away have discovered something about the early universe. The survey showed the building blocks of the cosmos needed to make the planets, stars, and living things were evenly distributed across the cosmos over 10 billion years ago.
A team of astronomers led by Aurora Simionescu of Japan’s Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) in Sagamihara acquired data of the Virgo Galaxy Cluster along four arms extending up to 5 million light-years from its center. Data they used to show the elements of creation were evenly distributed across millions of light-years early in the cosmos.
“Heavier chemical elements from carbon on up are produced and distributed into interstellar space by stars that explode as supernovae at the ends of their lifetimes,” Simionescu said. “This chemical dispersal continues at progressively larger scales through other mechanisms, such as galactic outflows, interactions and mergers with neighboring galaxies, and stripping caused by a galaxy’s motion through the hot gas filling galaxy clusters.”
Astronomers study the distribution of the elements of creation during the early moments of the cosmos by shifting through the remains of giant stars that explode at the moment of their death supernovae. The core of a giant star born with more than eight times the mass of the Sun collapses near the end of its lifespan and then expands rapidly in an event called a core-collapse supernova. This rapid expansion scatters elements ranging from oxygen to silicon across the surrounding regions, while other types of supernovae spread elements of creation like iron and nickel across the universe. By surveying a vast region of space, like the Virgo Galaxy Cluster, scientists reconstruct how, when and where the elements of creation were created and distributed during the first moments of the universe.
Astrophysicists believe the overall elemental composition of a large volume of space depends on the mixture of different supernovae types contributing elements. For example, they have determined the overall chemical makeup of the Sun and solar system required a combination of one Type Ia supernovae for every five core-collapse types.
“One way to think about this is that we’re looking for the supernova recipe that produced the chemical makeup we see on much larger scales, and comparing it with the recipe for our own sun,” said co-author Norbert Werner, a researcher at the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology (KIPAC) at Stanford University in California.
Werner led an earlier study using Suzaku that showed iron was distributed evenly throughout the Perseus Galaxy Cluster. The new Suzuka data provided by the study led by Simionescu and her team shows iron, magnesium, silicon and sulfur spread evenly across the Virgo Galaxy Cluster. The elemental ratios obtained during the study are constant across the entire volume of the cluster and roughly consistent with the levels detected in the composition of the Sun and stars in the Milky Way. Extrapolated to the larger cosmos, scientists believe this shows the elements of creation were mixed well during the early moments of the cosmos over ten billion years ago.
“This means that elements so important to life on Earth are available, on average, in similar relative proportions throughout the bulk of the universe,” explained Simionescu. “In other words, the chemical requirements for life are common throughout the cosmos.”
Launched on July 10, 2005, the Suzaku mission showed us things about the universe during a space journey lasting over five times its intended lifespan, to become the longest-operating Japanese x-ray observatory in history. A space collaboration between Japan’s Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and NASA, the Suzaku X-ray Satellite scanned the x-ray cosmos until retiring from space service on August 26, 2015. Leaving a legacy of revolutionary x-ray discoveries its successor ASTRO-H (HITOMI), Japan’s sixth x-ray astronomy satellite is currently adding to since its launch in February 2016.
“Suzaku provided us with a decade of revolutionary measurements,” said Robert Petre, chief of Goddard’s X-ray Astrophysics Laboratory. “We’re building on that legacy right now with its successor, ASTRO-H, Japan’s sixth X-ray astronomy satellite, and we’re working toward its launch in 2016.”
Proving the saying, “Old Japanese x-ray satellites don’t retire, they sit back and keep watching the show.”
Learn and understand more about the clues the Hubble Space Telescope has uncovered about the formation of the Milky Way galaxy.
Take the space voyage of NASA here.
Learn more about JAXA.
Learn more about the discoveries of the Suzaku X-ray Satellite here.
Read and discover more about HITOMI (ASTRO-H).
Learn more about the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology (KIPAC) at Stanford University in California here.
Discover more about the Virgo Galaxy Cluster.