During the last living moments of dying stars, these slowly spread their ashes all over the universe. This is accomplished through an enormous network called the planetary nebulae. The ashes of these stars, spread through the stellar winds, happen to be enriched with an array of chemical elements. An important element in this entire process is carbon, which is found all over the ashes.
Just today, a study was published in Nature Astronomy. The research proved that the last moments of life of these dying white dwarfs, one of the smallest categories of dwarfs, provide an answer to the question of how carbon, which is quintessential for life, appeared in the Milky Way.
According to Jeffrey Cummins, which is an author of the aforementioned research and an Associate Research Scientist affiliated with the Physics & Astronomy department at the John Hopkins University, the new results prose some constraints regarding when and how carbon that was made by stars ended up in the Milky Way. The results seem to indicate that carbon ended up within the raw material from which the entire planetary system, including the Sun, was formed, just 4.6 billion years ago.
Currently, there is a debate within the scientific community regarding the origin of carbon, which is a highly important element for life on Earth. Some researchers argue that low-mass stars blew off their envelopes, which were rich in carbon, by stellar winds, thus becoming white dwarfs. Other astronomers believe that the main reason for the synthesis of carbon lies in the winds of extremely large stars, which ended up exploding as supernovae.
The study used data from the Keck Observatory, close to the summit of the Mauna Kea volcano, located in Hawaii. This collection lasted between August and September 2018, the main object of the research being the Milky Way’s open star clusters.