Hubble, NASA
Star dust resulting from the explosive death of a star is a place that can reveal some of the elements that go to forge life.Reuters/NASA

Star dust could play an important role in the formation of life-supporting planets.

Looking at isotopes of certain elements in star dust left after a star explodes could help scientists in knowing where to look for life-supporting elements in space, says a study.

By creating similar conditions in the lab, researchers at the University of Surrey observed exotic isotopes of certain elements formed when a star explodes.

The isotopes of these elements (samarium and gadolinium) are sensitive tracers of the way that stars explode, reports IANS.

"The important and exciting nuclear physics we are learning from these experiments will teach us a lot about the universe we see today," said lead author of the study Zena Patel.

The experiment led by physicists from the University's Centre for Nuclear and Radiation Physics (CNRP), world-leading research institute RIKEN in Tokyo, and Beihang University in Beijing is part of a wider European-Japanese EURICA collaboration.

Results of the four-year project appear in the Physical Review Letters.

"Our work involved recreating some of the isotopes that are formed when a star explodes. This was done by accelerating uranium to 70 per cent of the speed of light and colliding it into a metal target," said co-author Phil Walker from the University of Surrey.

By accelerating uranium (the heaviest naturally occurring element) to 70% of the speed of light and colliding it onto a metal target and then analysing the fragments using a gamma-ray microscope, the team discovered exotic isotopes with deformed 'shell gap' in the nuclear structure.

The highly advanced imaging technology developed for the project has important implications for the medical imaging process, potentially improving future diagnosis of cancer and cancer therapy.

Interestingly, a Nasa probe had collected stardust and returned samples to Earth during 2006 and a few particles from these had distinct signatures of being forged in star explosions or the dusty disks around distant stars.