Calcium from new supernova ‘could unlock secrets to life on Earth’

A newly discovered supernova in space could unlock secrets to how life was formed on earth, scientists claim.

By Andrew Hough in the UK’s Telegraph Online

Astronomers believe they have found a cosmic link to how calcium is formed in people’s bones.

They say a new type of supernova, called SN2005E, may be the chief source of calcium in the universe and on Earth.

Scientists say the mineral provides vital strength to bones, which could show how humans have an ability to stand upright, the Nature journal reported.

High levels of calcium and radioactive titanium were detected during observations of the exploding star, both of which are products of nuclear reactions involving helium.

So much calcium was present that it accounted for half the material thrown out by the explosion.

The star exploded around 110 million years ago in the spiral galaxy NGC 1032 in the constellation Cetus. Supernovae occur when stars reach the end of their life and blow themselves apart.

Information about it was collected by the Keck Observatory in Hawaii, the Palomar Observatory in Los Angeles and the Liverpool Observatory in the UK and pieced together to create a detailed picture of the explosion.

Professor Alex Filippenko, from the University of California at Berkeley, said: ”We hope that, by finding more examples of this subclass and of other unusual supernovae and observing them in greater detail, we will find new variations on the theme and get a better understanding of the physics that’s actually going on.

”We know that SN2005E came from the explosion of an old, low-mass star because of its specific location in the outskirts of a galaxy devoid of recent star formation.

”And the presence of so much calcium in the ejected gases tells us that helium must have exploded in a nuclear runaway.”

Until now scientists knew of two kinds of supernova.

One was caused by an old white dwarf, a faint highly compact star mainly made up of carbon and oxygen.

The other occurred when a hot and massive short-lived star exploded leaving behind a super-dense neutron star or black hole.

Scientists believe its source is helium ”stolen” by a white dwarf from a companion star.

Increasing pressure and temperature eventually caused the helium to ignite in an H-bomb-like thermonuclear blast.

Two such supernovae occurring every 100 years would be enough to produce the high abundance of calcium seen in our galaxy, the Milky Way and in all life on Earth, they said.

Astronomers believe seven other previously identified supernovae may belong to the same ”family”.



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