Researchers show how universe's violent youth seeded cosmos with iron

Oct 30, 2013 by Lori Ann White
Young stars, exploding supernovae, and active black holes produced powerful winds 10 billion to 12 billion years ago. These winds were the spoon that lifted the iron from the galaxies and mixed it with the intergalactic gas. Credit: Akihiro Ikeshita

( —New evidence that iron is spread evenly between the galaxies in one of the largest galaxy clusters in the universe supports the theory that the universe underwent a turbulent and violent youth more than 10 billion years ago. That explosive period was responsible for seeding the cosmos with iron and other heavy elements that are critical to life itself.

Researchers from the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology (KIPAC), jointly run by Stanford University and the Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, shed light on this important era by analyzing 84 sets of X-ray telescope observations from the Japanese-US Suzaku satellite. Their results appear in the Oct. 31 issue of the journal Nature.

In particular, the researchers looked at iron distribution throughout the Perseus cluster, a large grouping of galaxies about 250 million light-years away.

"We saw that iron is spread out between the galaxies remarkably smoothly," said Norbert Werner, an astrophysicist at KIPAC and lead author of the paper. "That means it had to be present in the intergalactic gas before the Perseus cluster formed."

The even distribution of these elements supports the idea that they were created at least 10 billion to 12 billion years ago. According to the paper, during this time of intense star formation, billions of exploding stars created vast quantities of heavy elements in the alchemical furnaces of their own destruction. This was also the epoch when black holes in the hearts of galaxies were at their most energetic.

"The combined energy of these cosmic phenomena must have been strong enough to expel most of the metals from the galaxies at early times and to enrich and mix the intergalactic gas," said co-author and KIPAC graduate student Ondrej Urban.

To settle the question of whether the heavy elements created by supernovae remain mostly in their home galaxies or are spread out through intergalactic space, the researchers looked through the Perseus cluster in eight different directions. They focused on the hot, 10-million-degree gas that fills the spaces between galaxies and found the spectroscopic signature of iron reaching all the way to the cluster's edges.

The researchers estimate that the amount of iron in the cluster is roughly equivalent to the mass of 50 billion suns.

"We think most of the iron came from a single type of supernovae, called Type Ia supernovae," said former KIPAC member and co-author Aurora Simionescu, who is currently with the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency as an International Top Young Fellow.

In a Type Ia supernova, a star explodes and releases all its material to the void. The researchers believe that at least 40 billion Type Ia supernovae must have exploded within a relatively short period on cosmological time scales in order to release that much iron and have the force to drive it out of the galaxies.

The results suggest that the Perseus cluster is probably not unique and that iron – along with other – is evenly spread throughout all massive , said Steven Allen, a associate professor at Stanford and head of the research team.

"You are older than you think – or at least, some of the iron in your blood is older, formed in millions of light years away and billions of years ago," Simionescu said.

The researchers are now looking for in other clusters and eagerly awaiting a mission capable of measuring the concentrations of elements in the hot gas with greater accuracy.

"With measurements like these, the Suzaku satellite is having a profound impact on our understanding of how the largest structures in our universe grow," Allen said. "We're really looking forward to what further data can tell us."

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1.4 / 5 (9) Oct 30, 2013
Scattered at spring's dawn,
Through the depths of time and sky,
Iron the star killer.
5 / 5 (1) Oct 30, 2013
If we could ever get the E-ELT, the TMT, & the GMT built, maybe we can actually observe some Pop III stars. The JWST will make a good start on the search.
On secondthoughtthinkagain
2 / 5 (16) Oct 30, 2013
I still have a problem with time or the sheer lack of it. Planet Earth has been here for a sizable proportion of the existence of the entire universe. It just does not seem to be enough time. Even though I know that in a random sense someone had to be the earliest but to be in a solar system that has been here 1/3 rd of the lifetime of the entire Universe . . . . priceless.
4.4 / 5 (7) Oct 30, 2013
A preprint of the Nature paper "A uniform metal distribution in the intergalactic medium of the Perseus cluster of galaxies" is available here:

The findings of this study are consistent with earlier Suzaku observations of the distribution of ionized iron in the Coma Cluster:
1 / 5 (12) Oct 31, 2013
The universal evolutionary transmigration of elements from inorganic to organic is now increasingly recapitulated in the noetic realm. This is not a process of chaotic random mutation. It is a exquisitely well ordered progression of effects.
5 / 5 (3) Oct 31, 2013
I still have a problem with time or the sheer lack of it. Planet Earth has been here for a sizable proportion of the existence of the entire universe. It just does not seem to be enough time. Even though I know that in a random sense someone had to be the earliest but to be in a solar system that has been here 1/3 rd of the lifetime of the entire Universe . . . . priceless.

You seem to have missed the point a little, the findings confirm that there have been metals around since very early times, in fact there may have been a few Earth-like planets formed 10 to 11 billion years ago, more than twice as old as ours.
4.2 / 5 (5) Oct 31, 2013
Such a finding indeed exerts another stress to Big Bang model.

Not really, simulations suggest the first stars formed at a cosmic age of around 30 million years. Those Pop III stars would have a high initial mass so lifetimes around 10 million years or a redshift of 55 for the first supernovae. If those are of the pair-instability type, they would return the majority of the mass to the ISM as iron.

I don't often speculate but I would expect the "IGM" to have a significant iron content by a redshift of 35 so even JWST will struggle to see pristine material. It may be confined to relatively small regions.
5 / 5 (1) Oct 31, 2013
in fact there may have been a few Earth-like planets formed 10 to 11 billion years ago, more than twice as old as ours.

Maybe. But in an environment like this:
40 billion Type Ia supernovae must have exploded within a relatively short period on cosmological time scales

I don't think a lot of them had a chance to develop anything resembling life.
That said: the fireworks must have been quite spectacular to watch.
1 / 5 (13) Oct 31, 2013
"This is the most beautiful and satisfactory explanation of creation to which I have ever listened." Einstein on the BB.

"I was there when Abbe Georges Lemaitre first proposed this theory. Lemaitre was, at the time, both a member of the Catholic hierarchy and an accomplished scientist. He said in private that this theory was a way to reconcile science with St. Thomas Aquinas' theological dictum of creatio ex nihilo or creation out of nothing." Alfven

Sure is an awful lot of "faith" with those BBer's.

"The extraordinary thing is that scientists accept the Big Bang and in the same breath deride the Creationists." Wallace Thornhill

Just another creation story be the believers!
2.5 / 5 (16) Oct 31, 2013
Just another creation story be the believers!

It may very well be the case the theory is wrong. Science has never said it's absolutely fact. However, the big bang theory is at least scientifically plausible and fits with all the observations made thus far. Every other explanation has been found to be unscientific and not plausible. Therefore, unless you have a theory that can be scientifically verified, agrees with the data that has been collected, and not part of your favorite unscientific pet theory I will continue to observe the best plausible theory available. Which currently is the big bang theory.
1.4 / 5 (10) Oct 31, 2013
You said it Mr Science!
3.4 / 5 (5) Oct 31, 2013
Sure is an awful lot of "faith" with those BBer's.

None whatsoever, expansion is supported by the Hubble Law in conjunction with the time-stretching of supernovae and quasar light curves and an early hot, dense phase is supported by the existence and spectrum of the CMB. You can offer no credible alternative explanations. Ockham's Razor then applies.
5 / 5 (3) Nov 01, 2013
Such an explanation can be very simple - the Hubble red shift is the result of the scattering of light ..

Even Zwicky's original paper which raised the possibility of "Tired Light" explained the reasons why scattering fails as an explanation, you should read it. As I said, you have no credible alternative to expansion.

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