Washington: Low temperatures detected in the remnant of a supernova detected in 1987 may explain the mystery of why space is so abundant with dust grains and molecules.
An explosion of a massive star was detected in 1987 in our neighbouring galaxy, the Large Magellanic Cloud, just 170,000 light-years away.
This supernova, dubbed 1987A, released approximately thousand million times more energy than that emitted by the Sun in one year.
Now, 25 years later, an international team of astronomers has used the Herschel Space Observatory and Atacama Millimeter and Submillimeter Array (ALMA) to study the supernova remnant.
They found a vast reservoir of unexpectedly cold molecules and dust.
"The powerful explosion we saw in 1987 scattered elements made by star into space in the form of a very hot plasma. The gas has now cooled down to temperatures between -250 to -170 degrees Celsius. That`s surprisingly cold, comparable to the icy surface of Pluto at the edge of our solar system. The gas has formed molecules and some has even condensed into solid grains of dust. The supernova has now become a super freezer!" Dr. Mikako Matsuura said.
The Herschel observations show that the supernova produced dust and solid material equal to about 250,000 times the mass of the Earth, or three quarters of the mass of the Sun.
To date, scientists have believed that supernova remnants contain only very energetic atomic gas, detectable at optical X-ray wavelengths.
The new observations show that this is not the case. The discovery of such a large mass of dust should help us to understand how supernovae slowly spread and fill galaxies with gas, dust and small rocky particles, some of which may eventually end up in the next generation of stars and planets.