Space

Study suggests an even distribution of elements throughout the universe

Study suggests an even distrib...
Visible light image of the Virgo Galaxy Cluster
Visible light image of the Virgo Galaxy Cluster
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Visible light image of the Virgo Galaxy Cluster
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Visible light image of the Virgo Galaxy Cluster
Graphic showing Suzaku images of the four arms of the Virgo Galaxy Cluster
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Graphic showing Suzaku images of the four arms of the Virgo Galaxy Cluster

A new study carried outby the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) suggests that whenthe universe was between two to four billion years old, the elementsused to create everything from the largest star to the human racewere evenly spread across a vast area of the cosmos. The studyfocused on an enormous structure of galaxies known as the VirgoGalaxy Cluster, which sits roughly 54 million light years from Earthand harbors over 2,000 galaxies.

The study drew fromobservations made by JAXA's Suzaku X-ray satellite, a long-servingX-ray telescope that has since been decommissioned due to thedeteriorating health of the spacecraft. To make the necessaryobservations, Suzuka targeted a 5 million light year stretch of eachof the four arms extending from the center of the enormous Virgo Galaxy Cluster.

The cluster is the second brightest ever discovered,making it an obvious focus for the study. Furthermore the sheer sizeof the cosmic structure allows astronomers to use the results of thestudy to extrapolate the chemical make-up of the Universe as a whole.

Graphic showing Suzaku images of the four arms of the Virgo Galaxy Cluster
Graphic showing Suzaku images of the four arms of the Virgo Galaxy Cluster

Data collected by Suzuka of the Virgo cluster detected the signature of both heavier and lighter elements evenly distributed throughout the vast region.

"Heavier chemicalelements from carbon on up are produced and distributed intointerstellar space by stars that explode as supernovae at the ends oftheir lifetimes," states Aurora Simionescu, leader of the teamof astrophysicists at JAXA who made the observations. "Thischemical dispersal continues at progressively larger scales throughother mechanisms, such as galactic outflows, interactions and mergerswith neighboring galaxies, and stripping caused by a galaxy's motionthrough the hot gas filling galaxy clusters."

It is believed thatdifferent types of supernovae are responsible for spreading distinctelements across the galaxy cluster. For example stars in excess ofeight times the mass of our Sun that collapse into what is known as acore-collapse supernova, spread elements such as oxygen and silicon.White dwarfs, which end their lives in what is known as a Type Ia supernova, otherwise known as a "standard candle," distribute vast quantities of iron and nickel.

Previous observationsof the Perseus Galaxy Cluster had displayed an even distribution ofiron throughout the structure, but had been unable to ascertain thespread of lighter elements. Data from the Virgo cluster study appearsto fill in these gaps, with the data displaying an even distributionof iron, magnesium, silicon and sulfur across the leviathanstructure.

According to the study,these elemental ratios are fairly consistent with the make up ofstars in the Milky Way, including our own Sun. This tells us that thechemical composition of the Universe is extremely well mixed, andthat the mechanisms and supernovae ratios that determined thecomposition of our galaxy are in effect throughout the universe.

A paper detailing thefindings has been published in The Astrophysical Journal.

Source:NASA

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