Comptel/Al26 Map
Credit: Comptel Collaboration (MPE/SRON/UNH/NASA)

Mining Aluminum in the Universe

Massive stars are thought to be the factories by which most heavy elements are created. Some elements are produced within the nuclear furnaces at the cores of these stars; others are produced in the titanic explosions which occur when nuclear processing stops and the star dies. Or that's the theory. The Comptel instrument on the Compton Gamma-Ray Observatory has tested this theory by imaging the entire universe in the light of 1.8 MeV gamma-rays (i.e. radiation with an energy of 1.8 million electron volts). These gamma-rays are predominantly produced by the decay of a radioactive isotope of aluminum, aluminum 26, into magnesium 26. The Comptel false color image is shown above; regions of no 1.8 MeV emission are dark, while regions of green-red-yellow shows increasingly bright regions of Al 26 emission. This map clearly shows that Al 26 emission is associated with regions of massive star formation in the Galaxy, like the Carina Nebula, the Cygnus region, and the region near the center of the Galaxy.

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Page Author: Dr. Michael F. Corcoran
Last modified July 16, 2001