Star dust may provide clue to life supporting planets

London: Recreating isotopes that result when a star explodes can help physicists understand where life-supporting elements may be found in space, new research led by Indian-origin student Zena Patel shows.

“Our study essentially demonstrates how star dust – the remnants of exploded stars – plays a role in the formation of life-supporting planets. It is just one discovery in a long process, but it will pave the way for further work in understanding the conditions needed for life in the universe,” the researchers said.

The researchers observed for the first time the isotopes of certain elementals formed when a star explodes.

The isotopes of these elements (samarium and gadolinium) are sensitive tracers of the way that stars explode.

The isotopes therefore can help us understand the origins of the heavy elements that are needed to support life in the universe.

“The important and exciting nuclear physics we are learning from these experiments will teach us a lot about the universe we see today,” said lead author of the study Zena Patel from the University of Surrey in Britain.

“Our work involved recreating some of the isotopes that are formed when a star explodes. This was done by accelerating uranium to 70 percent of the speed of light and colliding it into a metal target,” said co-author Phil Walker from the University of Surrey.

The team analysed the fragments left behind using a gamma-ray microscope and discovered that this reaction resulted in the creation of exotic isotopes whose structure had never been studied before.

This helps map the pathway for the creation of elements that are essential to support life.

The study appeared in the journal Physical Review Letters.

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