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Space and Physics

Was The Solar System Jump-Started By A Supernova?

author

Dr. Alfredo Carpineti

Senior Staff Writer & Space Correspondent

clockNov 29 2016, 17:40 UTC

The early solar system might have looked like this nebula in the constellation of Cygnus. NASA/JPL-Caltech/Harvard-Smithsonian CfA

We know the Solar System formed from the collapse of a large gas cloud. Now, researchers have uncovered evidence suggesting a supernova was responsible for squishing the cloud together.

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A team led by the University of Minnesota’s Professor Yong-Zhong Qian has looked at the composition of meteorites and found several elements that could have only been the product of a nearby low-mass supernova.

"This is the forensic evidence we need to help us explain how the Solar System was formed," Qian said in a statement. "It points to a low-mass supernova as the trigger." 

When supernovae explode, they produce and then shoot out many different elements, some of which are radioactive and have a very short half-life. While they disappear quickly, their decay products can still be found in meteorites, which formed from the leftover material after the planets had already started forming.

Supernovae that have an initial mass less than 12 times the mass of the Sun tend to produce different elements compared to the bigger ones. It’s this nuclear fingerprint that the team looked for in the meteorites.

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The research, published in Nature Communications, focused on an isotope called Beryllium-10 that has four protons and six neutrons, which is commonly found in meteorites. High energy particles, known as cosmic rays, have long been considered responsible for the meteoritic beryllium, but a new model for supernovae developed by Qian and his collaborators shows that it could have been just as easily formed in a stellar explosion.

But Beryllium is not the only elemental trace that can be measured in meteorites. And the analysis strongly prefers the low-mass supernova model to the alternatives.

"The findings in this paper have opened up a whole new direction in our research," Qian added. "In addition to explaining the abundance of Beryllium-10, this low-mass supernova model would also explain the short-lived nuclei Calcium-41, Palladium-107, and a few others found in meteorites. What it cannot explain must then be attributed to other sources that require detailed study."

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A lot more data is required to truly confirm this hypothesis but it is interesting to think just how many stars had to die to make all of us and all we have.


Space and Physics
  • solar system,

  • supernova,

  • solar system formation,

  • beryllium