Fragments of Supernovae Discovered in Deep-sea Sediments

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Researchers discovered fragments of supernovae in deep-sea sediments and solved a mystery surrounding the space around our Solar System. 

The researchers examined many deep-sea sediments from various locations that date back 33,000 years. They utilized the extreme sensitivity of HIAF’s (Heavy Ion Accelerator Facility) mass spectrometer and discovered proof of the isotope iron-60 created when a supernova occurs. Here is what you need to know.

A Long-mystery Solved and a New Study of Supernovae Emerges

Iron-60 is radioactive and entirely fades away within 15 million years. Such a thing means that any iron-60 discovered on our planet must have been created much later than the rest of the 4.6-billion years old Earth and found its way here from nearby supernovae before reaching the ocean floor. 

Professor Anton Wallner is a nuclear physicist at ANU and the one who led the study. He previously discovered proof of iron-60 at approximately 2.6 million years ago, and most likely another at about 6 million years ago, indicating Earth has moved through fallout clouds from nearby supernovae.

Furthermore, Professor Wallner said that more data is needed to resolve more details because “[…] what we measure is some kind of echo.”

In the last few thousand years, the Solar System has been traveling through a thicker cloud of gas and dust, dubbed the local interstellar cloud (LIC), whose origins are unknown. If this cloud had come during the past few million years from a star explosion, it would comprise iron-60. The researchers decided to search for more recent sediment to discover the truth. 

Their findings were successful. There was iron-60 in the sediment at very low levels, and the distribution of the iron-60 matched Earth’s latest movement through the LIC. But the iron-60 spread further back and was scattered throughout the whole 33,000 year measurement period. However, as Professor Wallner said, we still need more data to resolve these details. 

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