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Massive Explosion In Space Solves Mystery Of Very Rare Star

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Massive Explosion In Space Solves Mystery Of Very Rare Star

A huge explosion in space has helped scientists solve the mystery behind a 'very rare' star, hailing the findings as 'extremely important'.

In a world first, an international team of scientists discovered evidence of a 'massive explosion' that led to the destruction of a 'rapidly spinning, strongly-magnetized star'.

They say the breakthrough offers clues about why an unusually high concentration of metal elements were present in another ancient Milky Way Star.

The explosion, known as a 'magneto-rotational hypernova', happened around a billion years after the Big Bang.


According to experts, it was 10 times more energetic than a supernova - the bright and highly powerful explosion of a star.

The groundbreaking research paper, titled 'r-Process elements from magnetorotational hypernovae', has been published yesterday (7 July) in the journal Nature.

Artist's impression of a hypernova explosion. Credit: NASA
Artist's impression of a hypernova explosion. Credit: NASA

It was led by researchers from the Australian National University (ANU), alongside members from the ARC Centre of Excellence in All Sky Astrophysics in 3 Dimensions (ASTRO 3D).


A press release from ANU said the 13-billion-year-old star, called SMSS J200322.54-114203.3, had higher amounts of zinc, uranium and europium compared to the first stars in the universe which were predominantly made up of hydrogen and helium.

Dr David Yong, from the ANU Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics, said: "We calculate that 13-billion-years ago, J200322.54-114203.3 formed out of a chemical soup that contained the remains of this type of hypernova.

"No one's ever found this phenomenon before.

"It is a very rare star, and the fact that it contains much larger than expected amounts of some heavier elements means that it is even rarer - a real needle in a haystack."


Nobel Laureate and ANU Vice-Chancellor Professor Brian Schmidt, who is a co-author of the study, added: "The high zinc abundance is a definite marker of a hypernova, a very energetic supernova."

Researchers had previously been unable to explain why the star contained such high traces of metals.

Associate Professor Chiaki Kobayashi, from the University of Hertfordshire in the UK, said: "The extra amounts of these elements had to come from somewhere.

"We now find the observational evidence for the first time directly indicating that there was a different kind of hypernova producing all stable elements in the periodic table at once - a core-collapse explosion of a fast-spinning strongly-magnetized massive star. It is the only thing that explains the results."


The University of New South Wales Canberra's Dr Simon Murphy - one of a team of astronomers using the ANU 2.3-metre telescope to observe hundreds of potentially metal-deficient stars that were identified by the SkyMapper telescope's Southern Sky Survey - said the 'chemical footprint' of a star can tell us a lot about its age and the environment into which it was born.

He said: "The lack of heavy elements in its atmosphere tells us that this star is very old. However, it is oddly abundant in certain heavy elements such as zinc, uranium and europium.

"This fingerprint is a sign that it was created from gas enriched by the explosion of a very massive, highly-magnetised and fast-rotating star, more powerful than a supernova, a so-called 'magneto-rotational hypernova'.


"This is the first time we have seen the chemical fingerprint of such a hypernova explosion and will hopefully prompt new theoretical work to understand these powerful but enigmatic objects."

ASTRO 3D Director and ANU Professor Lisa Kewley added: "This is an extremely important discovery that reveals a new pathway for the formation of heavy elements in the infant universe."

Featured Image Credit: Da Costa/SkyMapper

Topics: Science, World News, News, space

Jess Hardiman
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