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Supernova is a dust factory

Grains of matter spewed by explosion offer clues to early star formation

5:23pm, January 7, 2014

GATHERING DUST  Observations of dust (red) detected in the center of the debris from Supernova 1987A suggest that such stellar explosions may be a source of cosmic dust. Visible light (green) and X-ray (blue) images show the expanding shockwave from the supernova.

OXON HILL, Md. — The remnant of a recent supernova contains nearly a star’s mass of dust. The dust’s presence provides strong evidence that similar explosions distributed dust that seeded bursts of star formation billions of years ago.

For astronomers, dust is a bit different from the stuff on your dresser. Dust forms in space when searing-hot atoms of carbon, oxygen and silicon cool and clump together into solid grains as large as a thousandth of a centimeter across. These grains permeate the cosmos, serving as springboards for star formation and as surfaces on which other atoms combine into complex molecules, including the building blocks of life.

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