Toothpaste fluorine formed in stars

August 21, 2014

The fluorine that is found in products such as toothpaste was likely formed billions of years ago in now dead stars of the same type as our sun. This has been shown by astronomers at Lund University in Sweden, together with colleagues from Ireland and the USA.

Fluorine can be found in everyday products such as toothpaste and fluorine chewing gum. However, the origins of the chemical element have been somewhat of a mystery. There have been three main theories about where it was created. The findings now presented support the theory that fluorine is formed in stars similar to the sun but heavier, towards the end of their existence. The sun and the planets in our solar system have then been formed out of material from these dead stars.

"So, the fluorine in our toothpaste originates from the sun's dead ancestors", said Nils Ryde, a reader in astronomy at Lund University.

With doctoral student Henrik Jönsson and colleagues from Ireland and the US, he has studied stars formed at different points in the history of the universe to see if the amount of fluorine they contain agrees with the predictions of the theory.

By analysing the light emitted by a star, it is possible to calculate how much of different elements it contains. Light of a certain wavelength indicates a certain element. In the present study, the researchers used a telescope on Hawaii and a new type of instrument that is sensitive to light with a wavelength in the middle of the infrared spectrum. It is in this area that the signal is found in this case.

"Constructing instruments that can measure infrared light with high resolution is very complicated and they have only recently become available", said Nils Ryde.

Different chemical elements are formed at high pressure and temperature inside a star. Fluorine is formed towards the end of the star's life, when it has expanded to become what is known as a red giant. The fluorine then moves to the outer parts of the star. After that, the star casts off the outer parts and forms a planetary nebula. The fluorine that is thrown out in this process mixes with the gas that surrounds the stars, known as the interstellar medium. New stars and planets are then formed from the interstellar medium. When the new stars die, the interstellar medium is enriched once again.

The researchers are now also turning their attention to other types of stars. Among other things, they will try to find out whether fluorine could have been produced in the early universe, before the first red giants had formed. They will also use the same method to study environments in the universe that are different from the environment surrounding the sun, such as close to the supermassive black hole at the centre of the Milky Way. There, the cycle of stars dying and new ones being born goes considerably faster than around the sun.

"By looking at the level of fluorine in the stars there, we can say whether the processes that form it are different", said Nils Ryde.
-end-


Lund University

Related Planets Articles from Brightsurf:

Stars and planets grow up together as siblings
ALMA shows rings around the still-growing proto-star IRS 63

Two planets around a red dwarf
The 'SAINT-EX' Observatory, led by scientists from the National Centre of Competence in Research NCCR PlanetS of the University of Bern and the University of Geneva, has detected two exoplanets orbiting the star TOI-1266.

Some planets may be better for life than Earth
Researchers have identified two dozen planets outside our solar system that may have conditions more suitable for life than our own.

Fifty new planets confirmed in machine learning first
Fifty potential planets have had their existence confirmed by a new machine learning algorithm developed by University of Warwick scientists.

Rogue planets could outnumber the stars
An upcoming NASA mission could find that there are more rogue planets - planets that float in space without orbiting a sun - than there are stars in the Milky Way, a new study theorizes.

Could mini-Neptunes be irradiated ocean planets?
Many exoplanets known today are ''super-Earths'', with a radius 1.3 times that of Earth, and ''mini-Neptunes'', with 2.4 Earth radii.

As many as six billion Earth-like planets in our galaxy, according to new estimates
There may be as many as one Earth-like planet for every five Sun-like stars in the Milky way Galaxy, according to new estimates by University of British Columbia astronomers using data from NASA's Kepler mission.

How planets may form after dust sticks together
Scientists may have figured out how dust particles can stick together to form planets, according to a Rutgers co-authored study that may also help to improve industrial processes.

Planets around a black hole?
Theoreticians in two different fields defied the common knowledge that planets orbit stars like the Sun.

The rare molecule weighing in on the birth of planets
Astronomers using one of the most advanced radio telescopes have discovered a rare molecule in the dust and gas disc around a young star -- and it may provide an answer to one of the conundrums facing astronomers.

Read More: Planets News and Planets Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.