Science

People made from alien atoms from a galaxy far, far away

People made from alien atoms from a galaxy far, far away

Thrown into space with such force, streams of charged atoms are blasted away from their original galaxy's gravitational pull and carried to our Milky Way on "powerful galactic winds".

Supercomputer simulations conducted by a team of astrophysicists at Northwestern University suggest that each of us - and everything in our galaxy - may have been expelled vast distances across the universe by exploding supernovas.

The scientists conducted the work by simulating the movement of matter through the universe, relying on the equivalent of millions of hours of computing.

"In our simulations, we were able to trace the origins of stars in Milky Way-like galaxies and determine if the star formed from matter endemic to the galaxy itself or if it formed instead from gas previously contained in another galaxy", said Anglés-Alcázar.

Their findings indicated that while the birth of stars fueled the growth of early galaxies, it was intergalactic transfer that was responsible for later increases in mass, primarily through galactic wind. Before these simulations, it was thought galaxies largely grew by absorbing material left over by the big bang.

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The process of intergalactic transfer is likely to have taken several billion years, according to the Royal Astronomical Society.

"What this new mode implies is that up to one-half of the atoms around us - including in the solar system, on Earth and in each one of us - comes not from our own galaxy but from other galaxies, up to one million light years away.", said Faucher-Giguère, a co-author of the study. Scientists re-created 3D computer models of galaxies, following their formation from just after the Big Bang to the present day.

In a atypical study, astrophysicists have discovered that humans might be made up of "extra-galactic matter", changing the earlier understandings of how galaxies are formed. It appears that large volumes of gas flow from smaller galaxies to larger ones, like the Milky Way.

Pair of nearby galaxies with possible intergalactic transfer: This image shows M81 (bottom right) and M82 (upper left), a pair of nearby galaxies where "intergalactic transfer" may be happening.

Galaxies are collections of stars bound together and orbiting a common mass, usually a supermassive black hole, but right after the Big Bang nearly 14 billion years ago there were no stars and no galaxies - just a uniform gas. "In some sense we are extragalactic visitors or immigrants in what we think of as our galaxy".


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