LSU Professor Publishes Study Providing Evidence that Supernovae Produce Dust Found in Young Galaxies Shortly After the Big Bang
BATON ROUGE – Supernova 1987A is the most observed, well-studied and famous stellar explosion known to man, in part because it is located close enough so that when its light reached Earth in 1987, it could be seen with the naked eye. Now, a group of researchers, including Geoff Clayton, professor of physics & astronomy, have published a study providing details on the first time that “cold” dust has been recorded around the supernova and suggesting that supernovae in general might be responsible for the large clouds of such debris in other galaxies created shortly after the Big Bang. The results will be published on Friday, July 8, in Science.
“Supernova 1987A is the closest supernova to occur in almost 400 years, so it is particularly exciting that our results focus on its surroundings,” said Clayton. “It’s also exciting to see this colder dust. We’ve been able to pick up warmer particles before, but the new instruments on the Hershel space observatory allow us to view dust that was invisible to other telescopes because it was too cold.”
In astronomy terms, dust refers to elements in solid form, which includes most atoms found in space excluding hydrogen and helium. These space particles are important because they contain the elements from which the Earth and the life on it were formed – one cannot fully understand the abundance of these elements without first studying dust.
A few years ago, astronomers were able to observe galaxies created shortly after the Big Bang more than 12 billion light years away, which is the equivalent to looking back in time and viewing galaxies forming after the Big Bang. Researchers found that they were filled with dust.
“In our galaxy, stars that are billions of years old produce much of the dust, but stars of that age don’t exist yet in these very young galaxies,” said Clayton. “It has been suggested that objects like Supernova 1987A might be responsible for these dust clouds, and now, thanks to our advanced new technologies, we are able to start the process of proving this to be so.”
In addition to Clayton, researchers from around the world were involved in the publication, including institutions such as University College London, NASA, University of Wisconsin, the Max Planck Institute in Germany, the Steward Observatory, the Space Telescope Science Institute, the Oskar Klein Centre of Sweden, the Institute for the Physics and Mathematics of the University in Tokyo, France’s CEA, the European Southern Observatory and Keele University of the United Kingdom.
An abstract of the article may be accessed at http://www.sciencemag.org/content/early/2011/07/06/science.1205983.abstract.