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Type II supernovae as a significant source of interstellar dust


Large amounts of dust (>108M) have recently been discovered in high-redshift quasars1,2 and galaxies3,4,5 corresponding to a time when the Universe was less than one-tenth of its present age. The stellar winds produced by stars in the late stages of their evolution (on the asymptotic giant branch of the Hertzsprung–Russell diagram) are thought to be the main source of dust in galaxies, but they cannot produce that dust on a short enough timescale6 (<1 Gyr) to explain the results in the high-redshift galaxies. Supernova explosions of massive stars (type II) are also a potential source, with models predicting 0.2–4M of dust7,8,9,10. As massive stars evolve rapidly, on timescales of a few Myr, these supernovae could be responsible for the high-redshift dust. Observations11,12,13 of supernova remnants in the Milky Way, however, have hitherto revealed only 10-7–10-3M each, which is insufficient to explain the high-redshift data. Here we report the detection of 2–4M of cold dust in the youngest known Galactic supernova remnant, Cassiopeia A. This observation implies that supernovae are at least as important as stellar winds in producing dust in our Galaxy and would have been the dominant source of dust at high redshifts.

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Figure 1: SCUBA 850-µm image of Cas A at a resolution of 15 arcsec.
Figure 2: The SED of Cas A from the mid-infrared to the radio.
Figure 3: SCUBA 450-µm map, smoothed with a 21″ gaussian.
Figure 4: The 850 µm emission once the synchrotron has been subtracted using an 83-GHz image19.


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We thank M. Wright for providing us with the 83-GHz image, and W. Gear and D. Green for discussions. L.D. is supported by a PPARC postdoctoral fellowship and H.M. by a Cardiff University studentship. We are grateful to G. Davis for the use of Director's time on the JCMT to obtain the new photometry data.

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Correspondence to Loretta Dunne.

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Dunne, L., Eales, S., Ivison, R. et al. Type II supernovae as a significant source of interstellar dust. Nature 424, 285–287 (2003).

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