A new survey of hot, X-ray-emitting gas in the Virgo galaxy cluster shows that the elements needed to make stars, planets and people were evenly distributed across millions of light-years early in cosmic history, more than 10 billion years ago.
The Virgo cluster, located about 54 million light-years away, is the nearest galaxy cluster and the second brightest in X-rays. The cluster is home to more than 2,000 galaxies, and the space between them is filled with a diffuse gas so hot it glows in X-rays.
Suzaku mapped iron, magnesium, silicon and sulfur in four directions all across the Virgo galaxy cluster for the first time. The northern arm of the survey (top) extends 5 million light-years from M87 (center), the massive galaxy at the cluster's heart. Ratios of these elements are constant throughout the cluster, which means they were mixed well early in cosmic history. The dashed circle shows what astronomers call the virial radius, the boundary where gas clouds are just entering the cluster. Some prominent members of the cluster are labeled as well. The background image is part of the all-sky X-ray survey acquired by the German ROSAT satellite. The blue box at center indicates the area shown in the visible light image.
Credits: A. Simionescu (JAXA) and Hans Boehringer (MPE)
Using Japan's Suzaku X-ray satellite, a team led by Aurora Simionescu, an astrophysicist at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) in Sagamihara, acquired observations of the cluster along four arms extending up to 5 million light-years from its center.
"Heavier chemical elements from carbon on up are produced and distributed into interstellar space by stars that explode as supernovae at the ends of their lifetimes," Simionescu said. This chemical dispersal continues at progressively larger scales through other mechanisms, such as galactic outflows, interactions and mergers with neighboring galaxies, and stripping caused by a galaxy's motion through the hot gas filling galaxy clusters.
Supernovae fall into two broad classes. Stars born with more than about eight times the sun's mass collapse under their own weight and explode as core-collapse supernovae. White dwarf stars may become unstable due to interactions with a nearby star and explode as so-called Type Ia supernovae.
These different classes of supernovae produce different chemical compositions. Core-collapse supernovae mostly scatter elements ranging from oxygen to silicon, while white dwarf explosions release predominantly heavier elements, such as iron and nickel.
Surveying the distribution of these elements over a vast volume of space, such as a galaxy cluster, helps astronomers reconstruct how, when, and where they were produced. Once the chemical elements made by supernovae are scattered and mixed into interstellar space, they become incorporated into later generations of stars.
The overall composition of a large volume of space depends on the mix of supernova types contributing to it. For example, accounting for the overall chemical makeup of the sun and solar system requires a mix of roughly one Type Ia supernova for every five core-collapse explosions.
"One way to think about this is that we're looking for the supernova recipe that produced the chemical makeup we see on much larger scales, and comparing it with the recipe for our own sun," said co-author Norbert Werner, a researcher at the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology (KIPAC) at Stanford University in California.
In an earlier study led by Werner, Suzaku data showed that iron was distributed uniformly throughout the Perseus Galaxy Cluster, but information about lighter elements mainly produced by core-collapse supernovae was unavailable. The Virgo Cluster observations supply the missing ingredients. Reporting their findings in the Oct. 1 issue of The Astrophysical Journal Letters, Simionescu and her colleagues show they detect iron, magnesium, silicon and sulfur all the way across a galaxy cluster for the first time. The elemental ratios are constant throughout the entire volume of the cluster and roughly consistent with the composition of the sun and most of the stars in our own galaxy.
Because galaxy clusters cover enormous volumes of space, astronomers can use one example to extrapolate the average chemical content of the universe. The study shows that the chemical elements in the cosmos are well mixed, showing little variation on the largest scales. The same ratio of supernova types -- the same recipe -- thought to be responsible for the solar system's makeup was at work throughout the universe. This likely happened when the universe was between 2 and 4 billion years old, a period when stars were being formed at the fastest rate in cosmic history.
"This means that elements so important to life on Earth are available, on average, in similar relative proportions throughout the bulk of the universe," explained Simionescu. "In other words, the chemical requirements for life are common throughout the cosmos."
Launched on July 10, 2005, Suzaku was developed at the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science (ISAS) in Japan, which is part of JAXA, in collaboration with NASA and other Japanese and U.S. institutions. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, supplied Suzaku's X-ray telescopes and data-processing software, and operated a facility supporting U.S. astronomers who used the satellite.
Suzaku operated for 10 years -- five times its target lifespan -- to become the longest-functioning Japanese X-ray observatory. On Aug. 26, JAXA announced the end of the mission due to the deteriorating health of the spacecraft.
"Suzaku provided us with a decade of revolutionary measurements," said Robert Petre, chief of Goddard's X-ray Astrophysics Laboratory. "We're building on that legacy right now with its successor, ASTRO-H, Japan's sixth X-ray astronomy satellite, and we're working toward its launch in 2016."
Francis Reddy | EurekAlert!
New type of smart windows use liquid to switch from clear to reflective
14.12.2017 | The Optical Society
New ultra-thin diamond membrane is a radiobiologist's best friend
14.12.2017 | American Institute of Physics
MPQ scientists achieve long storage times for photonic quantum bits which break the lower bound for direct teleportation in a global quantum network.
Concerning the development of quantum memories for the realization of global quantum networks, scientists of the Quantum Dynamics Division led by Professor...
Researchers have developed a water cloaking concept based on electromagnetic forces that could eliminate an object's wake, greatly reducing its drag while...
Tiny pores at a cell's entryway act as miniature bouncers, letting in some electrically charged atoms--ions--but blocking others. Operating as exquisitely sensitive filters, these "ion channels" play a critical role in biological functions such as muscle contraction and the firing of brain cells.
To rapidly transport the right ions through the cell membrane, the tiny channels rely on a complex interplay between the ions and surrounding molecules,...
The miniaturization of the current technology of storage media is hindered by fundamental limits of quantum mechanics. A new approach consists in using so-called spin-crossover molecules as the smallest possible storage unit. Similar to normal hard drives, these special molecules can save information via their magnetic state. A research team from Kiel University has now managed to successfully place a new class of spin-crossover molecules onto a surface and to improve the molecule’s storage capacity. The storage density of conventional hard drives could therefore theoretically be increased by more than one hundred fold. The study has been published in the scientific journal Nano Letters.
Over the past few years, the building blocks of storage media have gotten ever smaller. But further miniaturization of the current technology is hindered by...
With innovative experiments, researchers at the Helmholtz-Zentrums Geesthacht and the Technical University Hamburg unravel why tiny metallic structures are extremely strong
Light-weight and simultaneously strong – porous metallic nanomaterials promise interesting applications as, for instance, for future aeroplanes with enhanced...
11.12.2017 | Event News
08.12.2017 | Event News
07.12.2017 | Event News
14.12.2017 | Health and Medicine
14.12.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
14.12.2017 | Life Sciences