Data obtained from meteorites has been essential for science, as it revealed many details about the way in which our solar system appeared and evolved. In some cases, meteorites will feature grains of stardust older than the solar system, which contains interesting information about the formation of the universe.
An international team of researchers led by experts from the U.S. Department of Energy Argonne National Laboratory have made a major discovery related to the analysis of ancient grains, paving the way for a new astronomical research method.
Before the universe
Presolar grains are incredibly small, with an average size of one micron, and were released during star explosions, which took place billions of years ago before the solar system started to form. They were caught by traveling meteors as they careened through space.
Stellar explosions can be divided into two categories, nova and supernova, in the case of nova explosions. In the case of a nova, a white dwarf star funnels material from a star that orbits it until a thermonuclear explosion will take place, forcing the dwarf to release material into space. During supernovas, dying stars explode and lose most of their mass.
Supernova and nova explosions are some of the most violent events that can take in space and have been an important research topic for several decades. For example, researchers have learned much about the origin of heavy elements by observing them.
The new research method involves the use of the Gamma-Ray Energy Tracking In-beam Array and the Fragment Mass Analyzer located in the Argonne Tandem Linac Accelerator System to analyze the nucleus of an argon-34 isotope. Collected data was used to calculate nuclear reaction rates, which involve a large number of isotopes generated during stellar explosions, and providing the proof needed to decide if the explosion was caused by a nova or a supernova.
More data can be found in a paper published in a scientific journal.