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Evidence of a Supernova Found in Microfossils

Category: Science & Technology
Posted: 10:50AM

At the end of their lives, giant stars will collapse under their own gravity, resulting in a massive burst of radiation and matter called a supernova. Without these extraordinary events, many heavy elements and isotopes would not be present in the Universe, outside of stellar cores. Researchers from the Technical University of Munich have discovered the first time-resolved signal from a supernova on Earth, showing our planet has actually travelled through the remnants of one a dead star.

The evidence comes in the form of the radioisotope Fe-60, which cannot be produced by any natural, terrestrial mechanism, so its discovery points to supernova material falling on Earth. Actually this is not the first time such evidence has been found, but the previous discovery had poor temporal resolution, meaning we could not determine when it was from. This new discovery can be pinned down to starting 2.7 million years ago, peaking around 2.2 million years ago, and finally dying off about 1.7 million years ago. For approximately one million years, the Solar System passed through the debris of a supernova.

This iron isotope was found within microfossils of iron-sequestering bacteria that lived in the ocean. After the bacteria died, sediment built up at a constant rate, preserving the temporal shape of the Fe-60 signal.

The likely source of the iron is a supernova from the Scorpius-Centaurus OB association. At 2.3 million years ago it was just 300 light years away, so it was definitely close enough for us to pick something up from it. We are also within part of it called the Local Bubble, which is a largely matter-free cavity resulting from 15-20 supernova pushing matter away some 10 to 15 million years ago.

Source: Technical University of Munich

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