New discoveries show glass made from exploding stars



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PARIS – Another time when you are looking out the window for inspiration, remember that the material you are looking for has been forged in the heart of an exploding ancient star.

An international team of scientists said on Friday they had detected silica – a major component of glass – in the remnants of two billions of supernovae away from light years from Earth.

Researchers used NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope to analyze the light emitted by collapsing mega-clusters and obtain silica "fingerprints" based on specific wavelengths of light known to the material.

A supernova occurs when a large star burns its own fuel, causing catastrophic destruction which ends with an explosion of galactic proportions. In this celestial destruction individual atoms combine together to form many common elements, including sulfur and calcium.

Silica forms around 60 percent of the Earth's crust and one special form, quartz, is the main ingredient of sand.

As well as glass and fiberglass windows, silica is also an important part of industrial concrete recipe.

"We have shown for the first time that the silica produced by supernovae is significant enough to contribute to dust in the entire universe, including dust that eventually unites to form our home planet," said Haley Gomez, from Cardiff University School of Physics and Astronomy.

"Every time we look through a window, walk on a sidewalk or set foot on a sandy beach, we interact with material made by exploding stars that burned millions of years ago."

In 2016, scientists reported that they had found traces of lithium – metal used in the manufacture of many modern electronic devices – at the heart of the nova explosion, a phenomenon that occurs when white dwarf stars absorb hydrogen from the nearest sun.

This study was published in the Royal Astronomical Society Monthly Notice.

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