Is dentistry, literally, out of this world?

05 November 2021
1 min read

A new discovery has been made on how the chemical element fluorine – which is found in our teeth and bones and fluoride, is forged in the universe.  

According to media outlet Eureka Alert, “using the Atacama Large Millimetre/submillimetre Array (ALMA), in which the European Southern Observatory (ESO) is a partner, a team of astronomers have detected this element in a galaxy that is so far away its light has taken over 12 billion years to reach us. This is the first time fluorine has been spotted in such a distant star-forming galaxy.” 

Maximilien Franco from the University of Hertfordshire in the UK, who led the new study (published in Nature Astronomy) explained, “We all know about fluorine because the toothpaste we use every day contains it in the form of fluoride. 

“We did not even know which type of stars produced the majority of fluorine in the Universe!” 

The media outlet discusses the study, “Maximilien and his collaborators spotted fluorine (in the form of hydrogen fluoride) in the large clouds of gas of the distant galaxy NGP–190387, which we see as it was when the Universe was only 1.4 billion years old, about 10% of its current age. Since stars expel the elements they form in their cores as they reach the end of their lives, this detection implies that the stars that created fluorine must have lived and died quickly. 

“The team believes that Wolf–Rayet stars, very massive stars that live only a few million years, a blink of the eye in the Universe’s history, are the most likely production sites of fluorine. They are needed to explain the amounts of hydrogen fluoride the team spotted, they say. Wolf–Rayet stars had been suggested as possible sources of cosmic fluorine before, but astronomers did not know until now how important they were in producing this element in the early Universe.” 

We have shown that Wolf–Rayet stars, which are among the most massive stars known and can explode violently as they reach the end of their lives, help us, in a way, to maintain good dental health!” jokes Maximilien.