Alien rock found in Egypt may be the first evidence on Earth of rare supernovae

“Normal candle” (or type Ia) supernova explosions are some of the most energetic events in the Universe that occur when a dense white dwarf star submits to another star. Now, scientists believe they have found the first evidence on Earth for such a supernova.

The claim follows a careful study of the extraterrestrial Hypatia stone found in Egypt in 1996. Indicative signs, such as the chemical composition and design of the rock, suggest that the fragments contain fragments of the dust and gas cloud surrounding a Ia supernova.

Over billions of years, this mixture of dust and gas would have turned into a solid, the researchers say, eventually forming the mother body from which Hypatia originated at some point near the first appearance of our Solar System.

Sample of 3 grams of Hypatia stone. (Romano Serra)

“In a sense, we could say that we have caught a supernova explosion in the meantime, because the gas atoms were caught in the environment in a cloud of dust, which eventually formed the mother body of Hypatia,” says geochemist Jan Kramers. from the University. of Johannesburg in South Africa.

Using detailed, non-destructive chemical analysis techniques, the team examined 17 different targets in a microscopic sample of Hypatia. From there it was a matter of combining clues as to where the stone was and how it had formed.

These indications included an unusually low level of silicon, chromium and manganese, indicating that the rock had not formed inside the Solar System. The researchers also observed high levels of iron, sulfur, phosphorus, copper and vanadium, again making the object different from anything in our particular neighborhood in space.

Examining the data collection patterns of Hypatia, there were notable differences from what we would expect to form on rocks from inside the Solar System and on the arm of our Galaxy. Further analysis rules out the idea that the rock was formed by a red giant star.

The researchers also found that Hypatia did not match what one would expect from a type II supernova – it has too much iron for silicon and calcium – and that leaves an interesting possibility that this is a supernova remnant. type Ia, and the first found on this planet.

“If this hypothesis is correct, the Hypatia stone would be the first tangible evidence on Earth of a Type Ia supernova explosion,” says Kramers.

“Perhaps just as important, it shows that an individual irregular bundle of dust from space could actually be incorporated into the solar nebula from which our Solar System was created, without being completely mixed up.”

From what we know about type Ia supernovae, they must produce very unusual patterns of aggregation on rocks such as Hypatia. Through a comprehensive star data search and modeling, the team could not find a better match for the rock.

Of the 15 elements analyzed in the stone, many matched what would be expected if the object came from an explosion of dense white dwarf.

However, a case has not been closed yet. Six other elements do not match the type 1a supernova models: aluminum, phosphorus, chlorine, potassium, copper and zinc. However, researchers believe that something further back in the supernova past could explain this.

“Since a white dwarf star is formed by a dying red giant, Hypatia could have inherited these data ratios for the six elements from a red giant star,” says Kramers. “This phenomenon has been observed in white dwarf stars in other research.”

We will need more research to sort out science, but at this point, it certainly seems that this mysterious rock has traveled a long way.

The research has been published in Icarus.

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