The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) announced Tuesday (08.30.2022) the completion of the TIGERISS mission, an investigation being conducted on the International Space Station (ISS) with the goal of observing deep space and finding the origins of chemical elements.
In its statement, NASA mentions the words of the famous astronomer Carl Sagan: “We are made of stellar matter.” With this phrase, the US space agency explains that the atoms that make up the chemicals of the human body did not originate on Earth.
Accurate measurement from space
Experts suggest that the Big Bang – the Big Bang – gave rise to elements such as hydrogen, helium or lithium, but those heavy atoms necessary for life came from deep space, in processes associated with stars.
The experiment, which could last about a year, consists of sending an instrument called TIGER into space, which, thanks to low interference from Earth’s atmosphere, will be able to take measurements with greater accuracy and collect heavy particles (such as lead) distributed through space without much trouble.
How are these heavy particles formed?
Stars need a balance of energy to survive and carry their gravity. This energy comes from various chemical elements such as nitrogen, carbon or oxygen, and is important for harboring or producing life.
However, when the star tries to fuse the iron atoms, it does not generate enough energy to counteract gravity, causing it to collapse. The subsequent explosion, known as a supernova, scatters particles of heavy elements called “cosmic rays” through space at nearly the speed of light, potentially dangerous to astronauts.
How are these chemical molecules studied in space?
The TIGERISS space mission won’t have the ability to determine how a star collapses, said Brian Rauch, the mission’s principal investigator, but it will be able to add context about how these fast elements speed up and travel through the galaxy.
The idea is to find out how much these supernovae contribute to the formation of heavy elements: “This is the most interesting question that we hope to be able to answer,” the expert added.
“TIGERISS measurements are key to understanding how matter is created and distributed from our galaxy,” added co-author Jon Krezmanich.
Edited by Jose Ignacio Origola