Element found in our teeth detected for the first time in galaxy 12 billion light-years away

This artist's impression shows a distant star-forming galaxy more than 12 billion light-years away.  Researchers detected the presence of fluorine in the gas clouds of NGP-190387.

(CNN) We truly are made of star stuff, as astronomer Carl Sagan once said.(i.e., starseeds).

For the first time, astronomers have detected an element found in our bodies in a galaxy that is more than 12 billion light-years away.
The element, fluorine, can be found in our bones and teeth as fluoride.
“We all know about fluorine because the toothpaste we use every day contains it in the form of fluoride,” said lead study author Maximilien Franco, an astrophysics postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Hertfordshire in the United Kingdom, in a statement. “We did not even know which type of stars produced the majority of fluorine in the Universe!”
The elements found across our solar system, on Earth and even in our own bodies originated inside the cores of stars, which released them in stellar explosions. But the mystery of how fluorine was created within these stars has persisted.
Researchers used the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array of telescopes in Chile to make the detection of fluorine in an incredibly distant star-forming galaxy.

Massive star origins

Fluorine was present as hydrogen fluoride in gas clouds of the NGP-190387 galaxy. The light from this galaxy has traveled over 12 billion years to reach us, so astronomers view the galaxy as it appeared when the universe was only about 1.4 billion years old.

This artist's impression shows the bright core of a Wolf-Rayet star surrounded by material that has been expelled by the star itself. 

The stars that released fluorine throughout the universe likely lived fast and died young, the researchers said, which pinpoints Wolf-Rayet stars as their likely origin. These evolved stars are incredibly massive, but they only survive for a few million years — a short timeline when compared with the 13 billion years our universe has existed.
Only some massive stars evolve into Wolf-Rayets as they approach the end of their lives. This stage lasts a few hundred thousand years, but in the lifetime of a star, that’s very short. Only one out of a hundred million stars are massive enough to be Wolf-Rayets.
Previously, researchers thought Wolf-Rayet stars were the likely sources of fluorine, but this direct detection confirms it.
“We have shown that Wolf-Rayet stars, which are among the most massive stars known and can explode violently as they reach the end of their lives, help us, in a way, to maintain good dental health,” Franco said.
A study detailing these findings published Thursday in the journal Nature Astronomy.

Fluorine and the early universe

Other potential sources of fluorine that scientists have considered include asymptotic giant branch stars, which are pulsing stars with masses a few times that of our sun. But the evolution of these celestial bodies occur over billions of years, which would take too long and wouldn’t explain the amount of fluorine detected in the distant galaxy.
“For this galaxy, it took just tens or hundreds of millions of years to have fluorine levels comparable to those found in stars in the Milky Way, which is 13.5 billion years old. This was a totally unexpected result,” said study coauthor Chiaki Kobayashi, a professor at the University of Hertfordshire, in a statement. “Our measurement adds a completely new constraint on the origin of fluorine, which has been studied for two decades.”
Finding fluorine in such a distant galaxy expands the reach of this element. Prior to this discovery, it had only been detected in our Milky Way galaxy and its neighbors, as well as in some distant quasars, or bright celestial objects that are powered by supermassive black hole engines at the center of some galaxies.
But this detection places fluorine as an element that existed early on in the universe.
Researchers look forward to observing the galaxy using the Extremely Large Telescope, currently under construction in Chile and expected to begin observations in 2027, which could reveal more details about NGP-190387 and its mysteries.

Exploding stars created the calcium in our bones and teeth, study says

(CNN)The calcium in our bones and teeth likely came from stars exploding in supernovas and scattering this mineral across the universe in massive quantities, according to a new study.

We truly are made of star stuff, as famed astronomer Carl Sagan once said.
In fact, half of the calcium in the universe likely came from calcium-rich supernovae. But these explosions have turned out to be incredibly rare events that scientists have had difficulty observing and analyzing, so they weren’t sure how the calcium was created.
Explosions and mergers of stars are also known to create other heavy elements, like gold and platinum. But the calcium has presented more of a mystery.
That changed when a global team of almost 70 scientists from around the world collaborated after receiving a tip from an amateur astronomer. The study published Wednesday in The Astrophysical Journal.
In April 2019, Joel Shepherd observed a bright burst as he observed the spiral galaxy called Messier 100, which is 55 million light-years away, through his telescope. He also spied a dot that was bright orange. Shepherd shared his observation with the astronomy community through a survey.

This is what it looks like when an explosion creates gold in space

The news spread like wildfire among the community and telescopes from across the world were aimed at the galaxy and its anomaly. The event was named SN2019ehk.
NASA’s orbiting Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory, the Lick Observatory in California and the W.M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii, which researchers at Northwestern University can access remotely, all were turned toward the anomaly.
They requested that Keck observe the event in optical light, while University of California Santa Barbara graduate student Daichi Hiramatsu used the Swift observatory to observe it in X-ray and ultraviolet light.
These follow-up observations of the event occurred about 10 hours after the supernova was detected, and X-ray emissions from the explosion were only visible for about five days before they disappeared from view.
“Observing supernovae within hours of explosion is the new ‘it’ thing in our field right now,” said Wynn Jacobson-Galan, study author, first-year Northwestern graduate student and National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow, via email.
“As this particular supernova revealed, when you discover something so young, you now have access to the final moments of the star’s life right before explosion.”

The ultimate calcium-rich supernova

In fact, scientists had observed a calcium-rich supernova. The X-rays revealed intriguing new information about the explosion and the star itself before it exploded.
“The stars responsible for calcium-rich supernovae shed layers of material in the last months before explosion,” Jacobson-Galan said. “The X-rays are the result of the explosion violently colliding with this ejected material and stimulating a brilliant burst of high energy photons.”
The heat and pressure of the explosion actually drives the chemical reaction that creates calcium, the researchers said.
Usually, only a small amount of calcium is produced by each star as it burns through its supply of helium. However, when a calcium-rich supernova occurs, massive amounts of calcium are created and released in a matter of seconds.
“The explosion is trying to cool down,” said Raffaella Margutti, senior study author and assistant professor of physics and astronomy in Northwestern’s Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. “It wants to give away its energy, and calcium emission is an efficient way to do that.”
This occurs because the hot ball of material created by the explosion is trying to reach an equilibrium with its environment, Jacobson-Galan said.
“Calcium-rich supernovae produce just enough additional calcium in the explosion to provide an efficient means of emitting photons that in turn release heat,” he said. “Nature chooses the path of least resistance and calcium provides that path when enough of it is present in a supernova.”
And SN 2019ehk emitted the most calcium ever observed a single event, the researchers said.
“It wasn’t just calcium rich,” Margutti said. “It was the richest of the rich.”
The Hubble Space Telescope has observed this galaxy for the last 25 years, but never actually registered the particular star that caused this calcium-rich explosion. That’s likely because it was very faint, either a white dwarf, or a dead exploded core of a star, or a very low-mass star, Jacobson-Galan said.
“Without this explosion, you wouldn’t know that anything was ever there,” Margutti added. “Not even Hubble could see it.”
That faint nature is also possibly true of calcium-rich supernovae as well, when compared to common supernovae that occur when massive stars die.
“This makes finding new calcium-rich supernovae difficult to see large distances from the Earth,” Jacobson-Galan said. “Future telescope surveys that can scan the sky every night and see further into space will detect many more of these supernovae.”
This includes the upcoming Vera Rubin Observatory.
The scientitsts’ finding suggested that the stars responsible for these explosions must be undergoing some sort of instability, which then causes the ejection of the star’s outer layers right before explosion, he said.
The researchers are working on a follow-up study that includes how the supernova is evolving after the explosion.
They are also refocusing their search to include X-ray emissions from calcium-rich supernovae, which was entirely unexpected until this observation.
“We are designing observing strategies that would allow us to find a supernova when they are very young (and faint) and immediately repoint the X-ray spacecraft to catch the bright but short lived X-ray emission,” Margutti said.

 

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