Researchers received the surprise of their lives after witnessing a sight in outer space that has never been seen before. The recent Crab Nebula noble gas discovery by astronomers from the University College London in the UK marks the first time in history that noble gas molecules have been detected in space. The team, with participation of the Higher Council for Scientific Research and led by Prof. Mike Barlow at UCL, used the Herschel Space Observatory of ESA to observe the Crab Nebula in far infrared light, a Dec. 13 report from Red Orbit explained.
Their measurements of regions of cold gas and dust led to the accidental discovery of the chemical fingerprint of argon hydride ions, a finding published in the journal Science and supports scientific theories of how argon forms in nature.
“We were doing a survey of the dust in several bright supernova remnants using Herschel, one of which was the Crab Nebula,” Barlow said. He also confirmed that the Crab Nebula noble gas discovery was “unexpected” because they did not expect argon “to form molecules.
What makes the Crab Nebula noble gas find so special is because most astrophysicists consider all elements known on Earth the same as any that would be found in other galaxies. Furthermore, atoms and molecules must be the same, but until now, there was class that was not found: which consists of the noble gases, which are to the right of the periodic table (helium, neon, argon, krypton, xenon and radon).
"At first, the discovery seemed bizarre," Barlow said. "With hot gas still expanding at high speeds after the explosion, a supernova remnant is a harsh, hostile environment, and one of the places where we least expected to find a noble-gas based molecule."
One of the best known remnants of supernova is the Crab Nebula. This is a wispy cloud of gas forming filaments, which comes from a supernova explosion observed by Chinese astronomers in 1054. It remains at its center a neutron star that rotates rapidly on itself.
"The strange thing is that it is the harsh conditions in a supernova remnant that seem to be responsible for some of the argon finding a partner with hydrogen," said Paul Goldsmith of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.