The journal Nature Communications has published the discovery of a new type of stars that are very rich in phosphorus. This study could help scientists explain the origin of phosphorus in our galaxy, one of the building blocks for creating life on earth. The new discovery was made possible by astronomers from the Institute of Astrophysics of the Canary Islands (IAC) and computer science researchers from the Center for Research in Information and Communication Technology (CITIC) at the University of A Coruña (Galicia).
All chemical elements in the universe, except hydrogen and most of the helium, were created inside stars. But among them, there are several – carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, sulfur, and phosphorus – which are especially interesting. This is because they are the basis of life as we know it on Earth. Phosphorus is of particular interest because it is part of the DNA and RNA molecules and is necessary for energy metabolism within cells and for the development of their membranes.
The study, based on an analysis of a large number of H-band infrared spectra from the publicly available Sloan Digital Sky Survey database, could offer a promising stellar candidate set for studying the origin of phosphorus and the amount of this element.
However, the peculiar chemistry of these stars is still confusing. In fact, they are rich not only in phosphorus but also in several other elements. For example, such as magnesium, silicon, oxygen, aluminum, and even heavier elements such as cerium. Surprisingly, after extensive analysis of all possible stellar sources and processes known to form chemical elements in the interior of stars, this chemical pattern is not predicted by modern theories of stellar evolution and nucleosynthesis.
These results show that we are dealing not only with a new type of objects but also with the fact that their detection opens the way for the study of new physical mechanisms and nuclear reactions that occur in stars.
Thomas Masseron, project leader and first article author, IAC researcher
This could be an important clue about the origin of phosphorus, which is a fundamental component of life, scientists emphasize.
In addition, thanks to their work in Spain, scientists obtained the optical spectrum of the brightest of the “phosphorus” stars using the Echelle spectrograph (FIES) at the Northern Optical Telescope (NOT) at the Roque de los Muchachos Observatory (Garafia, La Palma).
Scientists were able to study the chemical content of other elements in these phosphorus-rich stars, and finally exclude those stars where, in addition to phosphorus, many other elements.