Monday, May 24, 2010

A Nutritious Supernova

Crab Nebula
A headline in the Los Angeles Times last Friday caught my eye: 'Supernova Rich in Calcium.'

Gigantic explosions in space are always in order for this blog, but it was the wording of that particular headline that got my attention. At least here in 'Murrica, the phrase 'rich in calcium' is practically synonymous with milk, in a way that merely 'calcium rich' would not be. Indeed, the LAT's health blogger also saw the headline, and was on the case.

I didn't blog it at the time because I tend to wait for confirmation of astronomy news from Sky & Telescope, the general media being rather iffy when it comes to matters extraterrestrial. And indeed the S&T website duly reports not one but two recent, unusual supernovae. Both, as it happens, were rich in calcium, one of them exceptionally so. They were also both something of a fizzle, as supernovae go. (Bummer!)


All the same, the mental image of exploding milk is wonderfully vivid, and sort of gives a whole new meaning to 'Milky Way.'



Image: The Crab Nebula supernova was not calcium-fortified that I know of, but it sure left a spectacular aftermath.

Related posts: I previously looked at other supernovae, recent and prospective, the (relatively) imminent demise of Betelgeuse, and the untimely end of a couple of mere exoplanets.

8 comments:

Jean Remy said...

Although interesting it is hardly surprising. Where would Calcium come from if not from Supernovas? That they are rich in Calcium could mean a star collapsed before it finished its full H-Fe cycle?

I would also add that like the Sodium in good old table salt, Calcium is not exactly something you want to take out of context. Calcium is also an alkaline metal, and those have a lot of very interesting properties... like reacting strongly to water:

"Calcium metal reacts with water, evolving hydrogen gas at a rate rapid enough to be noticeable, but not fast enough at room temperature to generate much heat. In powdered form, however, the reaction with water is extremely rapid, as the increased surface area of the powder accelerates the reaction with the water. Part of the slowness of the calcium-water reaction results from the metal being partly protected by insoluble white calcium hydroxide. In water solutions of acids where the salt is water soluble, calcium reacts vigorously."

I find it rather funny that people throw around "rich in Calcium" and "low Sodium" on their packaging. There is no doubt that as ionized compounds they are essential, but it sort of fudges the information along the way until no one knows what "calcium" and "sodium" are like as elements.

Next time someone asks me to pass them the sodium I'll toss a chunk of it in their glass of water and duck really fast.

Anonymous said...

"Although interesting it is hardly surprising. Where would Calcium come from if not from Supernovas? That they are rich in Calcium could mean a star collapsed before it finished its full H-Fe cycle?"

Exactly. Most stars stop don't have enough mass to fuse iron. Our sun, for example, is actually above average in mass, but is unable to fuse carbon (or any heavier element). Once its core becomes mostly carbon, the sun will explode (but not supernova), leaving behind a planetary nebula and a white dwarf.

Now back to one of those starfigher threads...

Rick said...

Where would Calcium come from if not from Supernovas?

Which is part of what amused me, considering the term Milky Way. (Yes, I am easily amused.)

Both explosions were 'low yield' as supernovae go, so I'd agree with the guess that the usual transmutation sequence didn't go all the way to Fe.

Dietary context, or lack of, reminds me of hearing about 'iron poor blood' when I was a kid, and wondering why people didn't just add some little lumps of iron to their food.


Now back to one of those starfigher threads...

What a bloodthirsty lot you all are! It isn't enough to have huge explosions; you want 'em to be deliberate.

Jean Remy said...

Next post: Supernova Weapons!

Best of both worlds.

Anonymous said...

Sooo...a fizzeled supernova could be called a "dairy star"?

Ferrell

f said...

Next post: Supernova Weapons!

Eh, really, a low-yeld, unusual supernova, could be:
a) a previously unkown natural phenomenon
b) a kind of star-busting superweapon used by star-spanning empires as balance of terror weapons.

Occam's razor give us the obvious answer: it must be clearly tha case b :-P

Anybody care to estimante if an asteroid launched toward a normal G class sun at sufficiently high relativistic speed could trigger such an event? Maybe that's what happens to uppity civilizations that start building interstellar probes...

nqdp said...

"Anybody care to estimante if an asteroid launched toward a normal G class sun at sufficiently high relativistic speed could trigger such an event?"

As far as I know, no, unfortunately... although astronomers and physicists probably aren't sure yet.

However, if the star was a white dwarf, and the asteroid raised the star's mass to 1.4 solar masses, you'd get yourself a nice Type-1 supernova. For a few days, that supernova would be the brightest (read: most energetic and most dangerous) object in the local supercluster of galaxies. The asteroid would need a huge mass, but it could be drifting along quite slowly. But you should probably do more research on that, because I'm just an architecture student and not really qualified to discuss astronomical phenomena in depth.

Rick said...

"Dairy star," indeed!

And what was I saying about bloodthirsty?