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When our Sun explodes grains of silica will be everywhere

NASA Goddard Space Flight Center : Wikimedia

A recent study has confirmed that every time we look out of the window or walk down the street or on the beach we are interacting with material made millions of years earlier by stars that resemble our sun. 

Silica everywhere

If we knew that the majority of chemical compounds found on our planet and in our body were forged by stars, we’d still be doubtful about silica which makes up around 60% of the earth’s crust.  This molecule can also be found in the sand that cover our beaches, on street pavements and even in your window pains as well as many other uses.  Where does silica come from?  According to a recent study published in the Avis mensuels de la Société royale d’astronomie, this mineral which is very common in the Universe is formed when solar stars explode.

“Digital fingerprints” don’t lie

Like our Sun, the AGB stars (a term which refers to the evolution stage of star masses comprising of between 1/2 and 10 solar masses) start to increasingly swell as their fuel (hydrogen) starts to decrease. In terms of their evolution, these stars transform themselves into red giants, before eventually exploding into supernova.  This exactly how our star will end it’s days as well.  However when these supernova explode can they produce silica?

Analysis taken from the remnants of two supernova  – Cassiopeia A and G54.1 – suggest that this is the case. A team of astronomers have recently determined that non spherical grains were able to be formed.  They discovered this by using the IRS instrument of NASA’s Spitzer telescope which can take “digital fingerprints” of the compounds produced in supernovas as each compound has a specific wave length.   We don’t know how they form nor why they have this shape but we now know that they are produced in solar star explosions.

Soleil géante rouge étoile silice
Credits : ESO

Enough silica for the whole Universe

Researchers have combined their observations of the two supernova remnants with those of the the Herschel Spacial Observatory from the European Space Agency with the aim of measuring the amount of silica produced inside each explosion.  It turns out that the amount of silica produced over the last billion years in supernovas is enough to contribute to the amount of silica found throughout the universe and on our own planet. 

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