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Radioactive molecules discovered in distant stellar remnant

31 Jul 2018, 08:57 UTC
Radioactive molecules discovered in distant stellar remnant
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Composite image of CK Vulpeculae, the remains of a double-star collision. Image credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO), T. Kamiński; Gemini, NOAO/AURA/NSF; NRAO/AUI/NSF, B. Saxton
Astronomers using ALMA and NOEMA have made the first definitive detection of a radioactive molecule in interstellar space. The radioactive part of the molecule is an isotope of aluminium. The observations reveal that the isotope was dispersed into space after the collision of two stars, which left behind a remnant known as CK Vulpeculae. This is the first time that a direct observation has been made of this element from a known source. Previous identifications of this isotope have come from the detection of gamma rays, but their precise origin had been unknown.
The team, led by Tomasz Kamiński of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, United States, used the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) and the Northern Extended Millimeter Array (NOEMA) to detect a source of the radioactive isotope aluminium-26. The source, known as CK Vulpeculae, was first seen in 1670 and at the time it appeared to observers as a bright, red “new star”. Though initially visible with the naked eye, it quickly faded and now requires powerful telescopes to see the remains of this ...

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