Astronomers were able to detect for the first time ever lithium in the debris resulted from a nova star. The discovery may provide an explanation why young stars contain higher than usual amounts of the highly flammable chemical element.
Luca Izzo at the Sapienza University of Rome’s Department of Physics and a group of researchers from Italia-based international center focused on studying relativistic physics dubbed the ICRANet explained in their study that they had detected the metal in Nova Centauri 2013 with help from La Silla Observatory in Chile.
The study was published this week in The Astrophysical Journal.
Researchers argue that lithium is one of the first elements to be created in the Universe. They noted that there is a smaller concentration of the element in older stars than in the Universe’s early days. Nevertheless, the substance is highly fragile and can be easily destroyed during a supernova for instance.
Izzo said that scientific community was puzzled by the large amounts of lithium in young stars because it didn’t know its origins. The quantity of the substance found there was even larger than the primordial ones.
Izzo and his team said that they were able to detect for the first time traces of lithium in nova stars. They believe that the findings may suggest that nova stars infuse the cosmic dust found in galaxies with lithium through their ejecta.
But researchers had known that novae enrich young stars with lithium since the 1970s. Back then, scientists found that novae and asymptotic giant branch stars are the major sources of lithium in our galaxy. On the other hand that was only a hypothesis that lacked any solid evidence. Until now.
The new study brought that evidence by analyzing Nova Centauri 2013. The findings also revealed that young stars owe their large quantities of lithium to the ejected gas from novae.
Nova is usually a variable star caught in a binary system that experiences a catastrophic nuclear explosion on its surface. The event suddenly increases it luminosity, but in the following weeks to months the star gradually fades away.
Izzo noted that two of his fellow researchers sought traces of lithium in novae for more than two decades, so the discovery was a major breakthrough.
“This is the satisfying conclusion for a long search for them,”
One researcher explained that finding lithium in a nova was like finally finding the missing piece in a jigsaw puzzle called the chemical evolution of the Milky Way.
Image Source: Nature.com