Astronomers have discovered a noble gas out in space where it should not have been. This gas, known as argon hydride, was found in the Crab Nebula. Before the discovery this type of element had only ever been analyzed inside a laboratory, stated a news release from Cardiff University.
Noble gases such as argon, helium, radon and krypton do not react easily react with any other elements and are typically loners. In rare conditions they can produce molecules with other elements, but researchers previously thought such an occurrence could never happen in outer space.
Dr. Haley Gomez of the Cardiff University School of Physics and Astronomy stated that the Crab Nebula only came into being 1000 years ago when a gigantic star exploded. It is very young in astronomical terms, and is also relatively near to Earth, at around 6,500 light years away. This provides an outstanding way to study what happens in such stellar eruptions. Last year, the European Space Agency’s Herschel Space Observatory was used to examine the complex network of gas threads to show how igniting stars create large amounts of space debris.
Dimensions of the Crab Nebula were able to be made by using Herschel’s various space apparatuses. Foreign spinning particles give off precise wavelengths of light which are known as “emission lines”. Scientists were able to figure out the chemistry make-up of outer space by watching these emission lines.
The team stated that this discovery was actually made by accident. Gomez explained that they were focusing on studying the debris located inside the filament, and out came two shiny emission lines exactly where they saw the dust. The researchers had a difficult time trying to figure out what those lines were from. No one had ever seen such things before.
It seemed, in the beginning, the discovery of argon was very strange. Hot gas was still growing at a rate after the eruption. A supernova leftover is a hot, hostile and harsh environment and one where it was least likely to believe there would be any noble gas molecules, stated research leader Professor Mike Barlow.
The research team thinks they have found a part of the Crab Nebula as one of the very few areas of space that offers the proper conditions for such particles to form.
The argon is thought to have been created when the star burst and then strengthened. This in turn caused filament to be produced which contained cold molecular hydrogen. The ionized argon probably joined up with the gas, and thus created perfect conditions for noble gas to be formed.
Gomez added that by finding such a molecule has allowed scientists to calculate the type of argon which was discovered in the Crab Nebula. It is now known that this argon is different from the argon which is in rock on Earth. Measurements that are taken in the future will allow researchers to analyze just what took place during the explosion over a thousand years ago.
Professor Matt Griffin, who is also from Cardiff University, and is the chief scientist of the research team stated that the top performance of the Herschel spectrometer, the knowledge of the research team in being able to produce high quality data and the persistence of the scientists who studied it, all came together to make a fascinating new discovery.
This noble gas find has caused quite a stir, being out in space where it should not be.
By Kimberly Ruble