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Astronomers detect radioactive molecules in debris from stellar collision

1 Aug 2018, 14:16 UTC
Astronomers detect radioactive molecules in debris from stellar collision
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This composite image of CK Vul shows the remnants of a double-star collision some 2,000 years ago that ejected radioactive debris into space, seen here in the orange twin-lobe structure. The direct detection of radioactive 26Al is the first such observation beyond Earth’s solar system. Image: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO), T. Kamiński & M. Hajduk; Gemini, NOAO/AURA/NSF; NRAO/AUI/NSF, B. Saxton
Two thousand years ago, two low-mass stars collided in an extremely rare stellar wreck, generating a brilliant burst of light that reached Earth in 1670. Initially visible to the unaided eye, the “new star,” now known as CK Vulpeculae (CK Vul), quickly faded from view. A single dim star surrounded by glowing clouds of gas visible only in large telescopes is all that remains today.
But astronomers using the Atacama Large Millimetre Array (ALMA) and the Northern Extended Millimetre Array (NOEMA) radio telescopes to study the aftermath of the explosive merger have found the first convincing evidence of radioactive debris outside Earth’s solar system.
The molecule in question is made up of a radioactive isotope of aluminium with 13 protons and 13 neutrons bound together with atoms of fluorine – 26AlF.
“The first solid detection of this kind of radioactive molecule is ...

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