For the first time ever, astronomers have picked up the trace of a rare radioactive molecule that doesn't exist on Earth, reports Phys.org.
The molecule in question, 26-aluminum monofluoride (26AlF), is a radioactive isotope of aluminum bound with fluorine atoms and was found outside the borders of our solar system, all the way in the Vulpecula constellation ("The Little Fox") some 2,000 light-years away from our planet.
While scientists have long suspected that this unstable aluminum isotope exists in vast quantities in our galaxy — so abundant, in fact, that it could be quantified to about two times the mass of our sun — this is the first time that a molecule containing 26Al has ever been detected outside our solar system, notes the media outlet, citing the National Radio Astronomy Observatory.
The discovery was made by an international team of astronomers from three continents, who published their findings on July 30 in the journal Nature Astronomy.
In addition to spotting the unique spectral signature of these molecules in space, the scientists, hailing from the United States, Australia, and three European countries, also managed to observe the active source of the radioactive aluminum isotope — another "incredible first," according to Space.com.
"The first solid detection of this kind of radioactive molecule is an important milestone in our exploration of the cool molecular universe," said study lead author Tomasz Kamiński, an astronomer with the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts.