Color reproductions show various parts of the nebula in its "cool phase" surrounding the star CK Vul. 26AlF, which is now the first proven radioactive molecule in outer space, can be seen in cyan, green, and yellow.
Picture credits: T. Kamiński; ESO / Y. Beletsky / ALMA photo
Scientists have discovered for the first time a radioactive molecule in space ̵
In the 17th century, astronomers saw a luminous nova in the Vulpecula constellation. But while they were able to see the star with the naked eye, in 2013 astronomers were able to trace unusual molecular isotope gas to the star event and rekindle interest in the nova. Now, an international research team led by Tomasz Kamiński of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics has shown that the nova probably originated from the merging of two stars in a so-called red nova. In a red nova, two stars fuse into an explosive event, cool off and then generate large amounts of molecular gas and dust in this "cool phase".
This team has observed this molecular gas, 26 AlF, a radioactive isotope of aluminum, 26 Al, in the remains of the nova, known as CK Vul (or Nova Vul 1670 ). This is the first time that a radioactive molecule has been detected in space. This is also the first time that an object producing 26 AlF has been directly identified, according to the study published today (July 30) in the journal Nature Astronomy. [Kilonova Photos: Hubble Telescope Spies Cosmic Explosion]
By observing 26 AlF, scientists can better understand how the fusion occurred in CK Vul, a statement states. In addition, the investigation of the fusion process shows that a star collision, such as this red nova, can expose even the deepest layers of a star, so the statement. In this collision, the research team found that in the merged low-mass binary star system, there was a star with a red giant branch with a mass between 0.8 and 2.5 solar masses.
But while this study shed new light on this old collision, it has also raised new questions. It has been known for years that, according to the statement, there are about two solar masses of 26 Al in the galaxy. It is still unclear where this radioactive material comes from, but according to the mass of 26 AlF in CK Vul researchers are of the opinion that the fusion can not be solely responsible for the entire proven isotope Explanation. The amount of isotope found and its origin in the galaxy remain a mystery.
This research has been highlighted by CK Vul, an object not previously considered 26 AlF producer. Through this work, the research team also found that tools such as the Atacama Large Millimeter Submillimeter Array (ALMA) could be more useful for finding 26 Al producers as gamma-ray observatories. This could be useful for future investigations of the stellar remains and 26 AlF in the galaxy.
Email Chelsea Gohd at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her  @chelsea_gohd . Follow us @SpaceTOTCOM Facebook and Google+ . Original article on Space.com