May 23, 2022 I Paul Seaburn

A Tiny Space Rock Found in Egypt May Be the First Physical Evidence of a Rare Type of Supernova

While the mainstream media and the curious wanna-believe public watch the recent U.S. congressional hearing on unidentified aerial phenomena hoping for a glimpse of a visitor from another planet, star system or galaxy, a small group of scientists were quietly studying a real visitor from somewhere in the Milky Way – the first proof of such a visit from a faraway location in the Milky Way. While the Pentagon chases Tic Tacs and drones, let’s look at Hypatia -- a real interstellar space traveler. 

"We found a consistent pattern of trace element abundances that is completely different from anything in the solar system, primitive or evolved. Objects in the asteroid belt and meteors don't match this, either. So next, we looked outside the solar system."

Jan Kramers, a geochemist at the University of Johannesburg, made the announcement in a paper he co-wrote published in the journal Icarus. He and a team of international geologists and scientists were studying the Hypatia Stone, a small space rock found in Egypt in 1996 by Aly A. Barakat and named after Hypatia of Alexandria, the 4th century CE philosopher, astronomer, mathematician, and inventor. At the time of its discovery and for decades after, Hypatia was believed to be part of a comet or asteroid from our solar system … despite the fact that it contained anomalies neither of those types of space rocks typically have. Kramers, Georgy Belyanin and Hartmut Winkler of the University of Johannesburg, have been studying Hypatia since 2013 and confirmed its composition was from an asteroid belt or a comet. Then, what is it?

'Comet' seemd like such a good answer.

“We looked to see if the pattern we get from average interstellar dust in our arm of the Milky Way galaxy fits what we see in Hypatia. Again, there was no similarity at all.”

In a press release, Kramers takes us through the process of elimination the team went through as it used technology not available when Hypoatia was found -- a three-million-volt proton beam machine at the iThemba Labs in Somerset West. The team started by looking at the mineral nickel phosphide which had never been found in any object from our own solar system. They then searched Hypatia’s surface in areas not affected by its collision with Earth or its stay since then and found 15 more odd elements. Analysis of these showed surprisingly low levels of silicon, chromium and manganese – elements found in abundance in our solar system – and unusually high levels of iron, sulphur, phosphorus, copper and vanadium … more anomalies.

This proton beam data helped them determine Hypatia was not terrestrial, not part of any known type of comet or meteorite, did not form from average inner solar system dust, and not from average interstellar dust either. However, their presence and percentages of Hypatia should tell what kind of star it came from. Hypatia’s high level of iron and low levels of silicon and heavy elements eliminated a red giant star. They then considered a type II supernova caused by the rapid collapse and explosion of a star at least 8 times, but no more 50 times, the mass of the Sun – a common type of supernova which spits out a lot of iron. That too was eliminated – Hypatia has too much nickel phosphide. That led them to consider the extremely rare type Ia supernova which are responsible for most of the iron in the universe.

“All supernova Ia data and theoretical models show much higher proportions of iron compared to silicon and calcium than supernova II models. In this respect, the proton beam laboratory data on Hypatia fit to supernova Ia data and models.”

Insert “Ah-ha!” here.

Type Ia supernovas leave behind a distinct ‘forensic chemistry’ after they happen because they are made in a binary system comprised of a red giant that collapses into a very dense white dwarf. In this rare case, the red giant collapsed into the white dwarf star gradually rather than quickly as is the normal process. As this white dwarf consumed its red giant partner, it got so heavy and hot that it exploded in a supernova Ia so violent, much of its matter was spewed into space as gas atoms. Hypatia shows evidence it was part of both a red giant and a white dwarf – silicon, sulphur, calcium, titanium, vanadium, chromium, manganese, iron and nickel from the white dwarf, and aluminium, phosphorus, chlorine, potassium, copper and zinc from the red giant.

Multi-wavelength X-ray, infrared, and optical compilation image of Kepler's supernova remnant, SN 1604 (NASA)

Insert “But wait … there’s more!” here.

“If this hypothesis is correct, the Hypatia stone would be the first tangible evidence on Earth of a supernova type Ia explosion. Perhaps equally important, it shows that an individual anomalous ‘parcel’ of dust from outer space could actually be incorporated in the solar nebula that our solar system was formed from, without being fully mixed in.

In a layperson's terms, this means Hypatia’s supernova Ia occurred before our solar system formed and may have arrived during its birth – getting incorporated into its formation. However it got here, the evidence is strong that the Hypatia stone is the first tangible evidence on Earth of a supernova type Ia -- one of the most massive explosions to occur in the universe.

Kind of makes those Tic Tac UFOs seem puny and insignificant, doesn’t it?

Paul Seaburn
Paul Seaburn is the editor at Mysterious Universe and its most prolific writer. He’s written for TV shows such as "The Tonight Show", "Politically Incorrect" and an award-winning children’s program. He's been published in “The New York Times" and "Huffington Post” and has co-authored numerous collections of trivia, puzzles and humor. His “What in the World!” podcast is a fun look at the latest weird and paranormal news, strange sports stories and odd trivia. Paul likes to add a bit of humor to each MU post he crafts. After all, the mysterious doesn't always have to be serious.

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