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科学美国人60秒: 南极雪中掩埋的宇宙秘密

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Secrets of the Universe Trapped in Antarctic Snow

南极雪中掩埋的宇宙秘密

In the summer of 2015, a strange delivery arrived in Munich, Germany: 25 boxes of still-frozen snow—sent all the way from Antarctica. The reason for shipping 1,100 pounds of snow halfway around the world? Scientists were hunting for interstellar dust—which might hold clues about our place in the universe.

2015年夏天,德国慕尼黑收到了一份奇怪的快递:25箱仍然冰冻的雪从南极洲一路送到这里。为什么要把1100磅的雪运送半个地球?科学家们一直在寻找星际尘埃——这可能为我们在宇宙中所处的位置提供线索。

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First, scientists melted the snow and then filtered it for fine particles. Analyzing the remaining dust with mass spectrometry, they found traces of the isotope iron-60, which is primarily produced in two ways: by exploding supernovas or by cosmic rays zapping interplanetary dust. But it’s also produced in nuclear reactions here on Earth, by bombs or nuclear reactors.

首先,科学家把雪融化,然后过滤出细小的颗粒。通过质谱分析剩余的尘埃,他们发现了同位素铁60的踪迹,铁60主要通过两种方式产生:超新星爆炸和宇宙射线撞击星际尘埃。但它也在地球上通过炸弹或核反应堆的核反应中产生。

So to determine how much of the stuff was truly interstellar—from beyond our solar system—the researchers used other isotopic clues to screen out quantities of iron-60 produced by nuclear reactions and cosmic rays. And they still had some iron-60 left over to account for—the stuff produced by supernovas.

因此,为了确定有多少物质是真正——来自太阳系之外——研究人员利用其他同位素线索筛选出了由核反应和宇宙射线产生的铁60的数量。他们还剩下一些铁60来解释超新星产生的物质。

“Just by looking at something which is on our own planet to learn something which is so far away and happened so many millions of years ago—I mean, that’s pretty amazing. And that’s why I really like this work.” Dominik Koll, an experimental nuclear physicist at the Australian National University. His team reported the results in the journal Physical Review Letters.

“仅仅通过观察地球的一些东西,就能了解到一些遥远的、发生在数百万年前的事情——我的意思是,这非常令人惊奇。这就是我喜欢这份工作的原因。澳大利亚国立大学的实验核物理学家多米尼克·科尔说。研究结果发表在《物理评论快报》上。

Koll says this iron-60 might be showering down on us from the Local Interstellar Cloud, the patch of space the solar system is moving through right now. And if the cloud contains material produced by supernovas, Koll says, it could be the ancient remnants of exploding stars—a clue to the structure and formation of the universe. Luckily, we can investigate it all by hunting for dust, right here on spaceship Earth.

科尔说,铁60可能是从太阳系正在穿越的局部星际云中向我们倾泻而下的。科尔表示,如果星云中含有超新星产生的物质,那么它可能是古代爆炸恒星的残留物——这是宇宙结构和形成的线索。幸运的是,我们可以通过寻找尘埃来研究这一切,就在地球飞船上。

Secrets of the Universe Trapped in Antarctic Snow

In the summer of 2015, a strange delivery arrived in Munich, Germany: 25 boxes of still-frozen snow—sent all the way from Antarctica. The reason for shipping 1,100 pounds of snow halfway around the world? Scientists were hunting for interstellar dust—which might hold clues about our place in the universe.

First, scientists melted the snow and then filtered it for fine particles. Analyzing the remaining dust with mass spectrometry, they found traces of the isotope iron-60, which is primarily produced in two ways: by exploding supernovas or by cosmic rays zapping interplanetary dust. But it’s also produced in nuclear reactions here on Earth, by bombs or nuclear reactors.

So to determine how much of the stuff was truly interstellar—from beyond our solar system—the researchers used other isotopic clues to screen out quantities of iron-60 produced by nuclear reactions and cosmic rays. And they still had some iron-60 left over to account for—the stuff produced by supernovas.

“Just by looking at something which is on our own planet to learn something which is so far away and happened so many millions of years ago—I mean, that’s pretty amazing. And that’s why I really like this work.” Dominik Koll, an experimental nuclear physicist at the Australian National University. His team reported the results in the journal Physical Review Letters.

Koll says this iron-60 might be showering down on us from the Local Interstellar Cloud, the patch of space the solar system is moving through right now. And if the cloud contains material produced by supernovas, Koll says, it could be the ancient remnants of exploding stars—a clue to the structure and formation of the universe. Luckily, we can investigate it all by hunting for dust, right here on spaceship Earth.


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