Supernova may hold key to origin of life

Supernova may hold key to origin of life

Supernova may hold key to origin of life

Using optical and radio telescopes near Pune, an international team of astronomers, including Indian researchers, has found an extraordinary property of a supernova – its profound impact on understanding the Earth’s origin.Using a series of optical and radio telescopes in India, USA and Chile including the giant meterwave radio telescope (GMRT) near Pune, an international team of astronomers including Indian researchers have reported an extra-ordinary property of a supernova – an extremely luminous and high-energy explosion of a heavy star.

The unusual attributes of this supernova – christened as SN 2009bb – may give a vital key to the astronomers on where to look for more such supernovae. Also it provides a clue on what drives the “central engine” in the supernovae.

“Elements like iron and calcium, which are essential to life were spewed by supernovae. These elements pervaded the universe later,” Alak Ray, one of the team members from the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai told Deccan Herald.

“It would also tell us more about how stars explode. This is an unresolved issue, which can not be simulated accurately. It would help identify the missing elements to improve the simulation,” said Ray.

But the discovery’s more profound impact could be on understanding the Earth’s origin.

Since the primordial universe – just seconds after the Big Bang 13.7 billion years ago – contained primarily hydrogen and little bit of helium, for a long-time researchers had no clue on how other heady elements originated.

In the 1950s, it was suggested that all heavier elements were cooked in stars, containing only hydrogen and helium.After burning for millions of years, stars become very dense and heavy. When such stars burst out, those supernovae explode throwing out the heavier elements in the universe.

Even though the theory of nucleo-synthesis is accepted by the scientists, there are many missing links. While the new discovery might help in plugging the holes, it is bound to raise fresh questions. Why SN 2009 bb – detected only a year back – is unusual?

Because such supernovae explosions are typically associated with gamma ray bursts (GRB), which are the most luminous flashes occurring in the universe. In this case, no GRB was found though scientists detected some of its signatures.

Interestingly, GRBs were first detected by US military satellites launched in the 1960s to look for nuclear tests in the space. While there were no such tests, those satellites spotted a number of GRBs, coming from far away in the universe.

“While some of the GRBs have been studied in detail, unusual objects like SN 2009 challenge the existing framework of theoretical science,” said Ray.