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348YearOld Radioactive Molecule Spotted in Space

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first_imgStay on target Scientists Discover Possible Interstellar VisitorWater Vapor Detected on Potentially ‘Habitable’ Planet “When Stars Collide” sounds like the title track of Barry Manilow’s latest album.Unfortunately, Barry hasn’t released a single since 2012.But astronomers did make the first definitive detection of a radioactive molecule spilled from two colliding stars. So that’s something.Spotted with the Atacama Large Millimeter/tarubmillimeter Array (ALMA) and Northern Extended Millimeter Array (NOEMA) radio telescopes, the form was apparently ejected into space by the collision of two Sun-like stars.This rare cosmic event—which often results in a spectacular explosion and the formation of a new star—was seen from Earth in 1670.The molecule—an isotope of aluminum monofluoride (26AlF)—spins some 2,000 light years from Earth. It requires supremely powerful telescopes to see what remains: a dim central star surrounded by a halo of glowing material flowing away from it.Composite image of CK Vul, the remains of a double-star collision (via ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO), T. Kamiński & M. Hajduk; Gemini, NOAO/AURA/NSF; NRAO/AUI/NSF, B. Saxton)While studying the remnants of the stellar merger (known as CK Vulpeculae, or CK Vul), an international team of scientists discovered the signature of a radioactive version of aluminum (26Al, an atom with 13 protons and 13 neutrons), bound with atoms of fluorine—forming the rare 26-aluminum monofluoride (26AlF).According to the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, this marks the first molecule bearing an unstable radioisotope outside our Solar System.“The first solid detection of this kind of radioactive molecule is an important milestone in our exploration of the cool molecular universe,” lead study author Tomasz Kamiński, an astronomer with the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, said in a statement.It is also important in the broader context of galactic chemical evolution.And it only took 348 years to find.Still, this is nothing short of an astronomical breakthrough, providing insights into the merger process that created CK Vul and demonstrating the lasting effects of celestial crashes.“We are observing the guts of a star torn apart three centuries ago by a collision,” Kamiński added. “How cool is that?”The research, published in the journal Nature Astronomy, can be read in full online.Let us know what you like about Geek by taking our survey.last_img read more