VY Canis Majoris, one of the most luminous infrared objects in the sky, is an old star about 5,000 light years away. It's a half million times more luminous than the sun, but glows mostly in the infrared because it's a cool star. It truly is "supergiant" -- 25 times as massive as the sun and so huge that it would fill the orbit of Jupiter. But the star is losing mass so fast that in a million years -- an astronomical eyeblink -- it will be gone. The star already has blown away a large part of its atmosphere, creating its surrounding envelope that contains about twice as much oxygen as carbon.
Ziurys and her colleagues are not yet halfway through their survey of VY Canis Majoris, but they've already published in the journal, Nature (June 28 issue), about their observations of a score of chemical compounds. These include some molecules that astronomers have never detected around stars and are needed for life.
Among the molecules Ziurys and her team reported in Nature are table salt (NaCl); a compound called phosphorus nitride (PN), which contains two of the five most necessary ingredients for life; molecules of HNC, which is a variant form of the organic molecule, hydrogen cyanide; and an ion molecule form of carbon monoxide that comes with a proton attached (HCO+).
Astronomers have found very little phosphorus or ion molecule chemistry in outflows from cool stars until now.
"We think these molecules eventually flow from the star into the interstellar medium, which is the diffuse gas between stars. The diffuse gas eventually collapses into denser molecular clouds, and from these solar systems eventually form," Ziurys said.
Comets and meteorites dump about 40,000 tons of interstellar dust on Earth each year. We wouldn't be carbon-based life forms otherwise, Ziurys noted, because early Earth lost all of its original carbon in the form of a methane atmosphere.
"The origin of organic material on Earth -- the chemical compounds that make up you and me -- probably came from interstellar space. So one can say that life's origins really begin in chemistry around objects like VY Canis Majoris."
Astronomers previously studied VY Canis Majoris with optical and infrared telescopes. "But that's kind of like diving in with a butcher knife to look at what's there, when what you need is an oyster fork," Ziurys said.
The Arizona Radio Observatory's 10-meter Submillimeter Telescope (SMT) on Mount Graham, Ariz., excels as a sensitive stellar "oyster fork." Chemical molecules each possess their own unique radio frequencies. The astronomers identify the unique radio signatures of chemical compounds in laboratory work, enabling them to identify the molecules in space.
The ARO team recently began testing a new receiver in collaboration with the National Radio Astronomy Observatory. The receiver was developed as a prototype for the Atacama Large Millimeter Array, a telescope under construction in Chile. The state-of-the-art receiver has given the SMT 10 times more sensitivity at millimeter wavelengths than any other radio telescope. The SMT can now detect emission weaker than a typical light bulb from distant space at very precise frequencies.
The UA team has discovered that the molecules aren't just flowing out as a gas sphere around VY Canis Majoris, but also are blasting out as jets through the spherical envelope.
"The signals we receive show not only which molecules are seen, but how the molecules are moving toward and away from us," said Stefanie Milam, a recent doctoral graduate on the ARO team.
The molecules flowing out from VY Canis Majoris trace complex winds in three outflows: the general, spherical outflow from the star, a jet of material blasting out towards Earth, and another jet shooting out a 45 degree angle away from Earth.
Astronomers have seen bipolar outflows from stars before, but not two, unconnected, asymmetric and apparently random outflows, Ziurys said.
Ziurys said she believes the two random jets are evidence for what astronomers earlier proposed are "supergranules" that form in very massive stars, and has been seen in Betelgeuse. Supergranules are huge cells of gas that form inside the star, then float to the surface and are ejected out of the star, where they cool in space and form molecules, creating jet outflows with certain molecular compositions.
Back in the 1960s, no one believed molecules could survive the harsh environment of space. Ultraviolet radiation supposedly reduced matter to atoms and atomic ions. Now scientists conclude that at least half of the gas in space between the stars within the 33-light-year inner galaxy is molecular, Ziurys said. "Our results are more evidence that we live in a really molecular universe, as opposed to an atomic one," Ziurys said.
The Arizona Radio Observatory (ARO) owns and operates two radio telescopes in southern Arizona: The former NRAO 12 Meter (KP12m) Telescope located 50 miles southwest of Tucson on Kitt Peak and the Submillimeter Telescope (SMT) located on Mount Graham near Safford, Ariz. The telescopes are operated around-the-clock for about nine to 10 months per year for a combined 10,000 hours per observing season. About 1,500 hours are dedicated to sub-mm wavelengths at the SMT. The ARO offices are centrally located in the Steward Observatory building on the UA campus in Tucson.
Lori Stiles | University of Arizona
Heating quantum matter: A novel view on topology
22.08.2017 | Université libre de Bruxelles
Engineering team images tiny quasicrystals as they form
18.08.2017 | Cornell University
Whether you call it effervescent, fizzy, or sparkling, carbonated water is making a comeback as a beverage. Aside from quenching thirst, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have discovered a new use for these "bubbly" concoctions that will have major impact on the manufacturer of the world's thinnest, flattest, and one most useful materials -- graphene.
As graphene's popularity grows as an advanced "wonder" material, the speed and quality at which it can be manufactured will be paramount. With that in mind,...
Physicists at the University of Bonn have managed to create optical hollows and more complex patterns into which the light of a Bose-Einstein condensate flows. The creation of such highly low-loss structures for light is a prerequisite for complex light circuits, such as for quantum information processing for a new generation of computers. The researchers are now presenting their results in the journal Nature Photonics.
Light particles (photons) occur as tiny, indivisible portions. Many thousands of these light portions can be merged to form a single super-photon if they are...
For the first time, scientists have shown that circular RNA is linked to brain function. When a RNA molecule called Cdr1as was deleted from the genome of mice, the animals had problems filtering out unnecessary information – like patients suffering from neuropsychiatric disorders.
While hundreds of circular RNAs (circRNAs) are abundant in mammalian brains, one big question has remained unanswered: What are they actually good for? In the...
An experimental small satellite has successfully collected and delivered data on a key measurement for predicting changes in Earth's climate.
The Radiometer Assessment using Vertically Aligned Nanotubes (RAVAN) CubeSat was launched into low-Earth orbit on Nov. 11, 2016, in order to test new...
A study led by scientists of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg presents evidence of the coexistence of superconductivity and “charge-density-waves” in compounds of the poorly-studied family of bismuthates. This observation opens up new perspectives for a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of high-temperature superconductivity, a topic which is at the core of condensed matter research since more than 30 years. The paper by Nicoletti et al has been published in the PNAS.
Since the beginning of the 20th century, superconductivity had been observed in some metals at temperatures only a few degrees above the absolute zero (minus...
16.08.2017 | Event News
04.08.2017 | Event News
26.07.2017 | Event News
23.08.2017 | Materials Sciences
23.08.2017 | Automotive Engineering
23.08.2017 | Life Sciences