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Scientists Found Breathable Oxygen In Another Galaxy For The First Time

by : Cameron Frew on : 21 Feb 2020 08:19
Scientists Found Breathable Oxygen In Another Galaxy For The First TimeScientists Found Breathable Oxygen In Another Galaxy For The First TimeNASA

The truth is out th-air: for the first time in history, scientists have detected oxygen outside of our own galaxy. 

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Oxygen – alongside hydrogen and helium – is one of the most abundant elements in the universe, and is utterly essential to life on Earth. However, decades and decades have passed by as researchers fine-combed fractions of the wider cosmos to find it, but to no avail.

However, in the far reaches outside the Milky Way, we now have the ‘first detection of extragalactic molecular oxygen’.

Markarian 231Markarian 231British Astronomical Association

In a recent study published in The Astrophysical Journal, Junzhi Wang, an astronomer at the Shanghai Astronomical Observatory, noted the groundbreaking discovery of molecular oxygen in Markarian 231 – ‘an eternal galaxy’ located 581 million light years from the Milky Way.

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Without molecular oxygen, us humans would cease to live – it’s the most common free form of the element, consisting of two oxygen atoms with the designation O2.

Wang and his colleagues were able to find the ‘11–10 transition of molecular oxygen’ thanks to the ‘IRAM 30 m telescope and the Northern Extended Millimeter Array Interferometer’ (detecting oxygen outside of Earth is notoriously difficult due to our atmosphere).

Over the past 20 years, molecular oxygen has only been detected twice: once in the Rho Ophiuchi cloud and another time in the Orion Nebula, respectively 350 and 1,344 light years from Earth.

However, the researchers were assisted by Markarian 231’s redshifted light – so as it travelled to our own galaxy, it was stretched into longer wavelengths, meaning Earth’s pesky atmosphere wasn’t as effective at blocking its oxygen omissions.

Markarian 231 was discovered back in 1969, and is our closest example of a quasar – as per Swinburne University, they are active galactic nuclei and ‘the brightest objects in the universe, thought to be powered by supermassive black holes (black holes with a mass of more than one billion solar masses) which lie at the center of massive galaxies’.

However, this doesn’t mean it’s an ideal respite if our own galaxy collapses: there may be a small amount of molecular oxygen, but the vital mix of nitrogen, carbon dioxide, methane and all the other bits and bobs we need to breathe aren’t known to be present.

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The researchers noted: ‘New astrochemical models are needed to explain the implied high molecular oxygen abundance in such regions several kiloparsecs away from the center of galaxies.’

It is a huge step, though – in comparison to previous detections of oxygen within the Milky Way, the new findings are a 100-fold increase.

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Cameron Frew

After graduating from Glasgow Caledonian University with an NCTJ and BCTJ-accredited Multimedia Journalism degree, Cameron ventured into the world of print journalism at The National, while also working as a freelance film journalist on the side, becoming an accredited Rotten Tomatoes critic in the process. He's now left his Scottish homelands and took up residence at UNILAD as a journalist.

Topics: Science, Astronomy, Milky Way, Molecular Oxygen, oxygen, Space

Credits

The Astrophysical Journal and 1 other
  1. The Astrophysical Journal

    Molecular Oxygen in the Nearest QSO Mrk 231

  2. Swinburne University

    Quasar