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Scientists have found a recipe for cooking the solar system from scratch

Scientists have found a recipe for cooking the solar system from scratch

You take a cold cloud of gas, and set it 15 light-years from an exploding supernova. Stun the cloud with the supernova’s shockwave. Incubate, and watch as the solar system begins to take shape.

New computer simulations support this scenario, which is a plausible recounting of the solar system’s birth, reports a team of scientists in an upcoming issue of the Astrophysical Journal. “With the supernova, you have one triggering event, and you don’t have to invoke a complicated chain of events,” says study author Matthias Gritschneder, an astrophysicist at the University of California, Santa Cruz to Sciencenews.org.

Understanding how the local solar neighborhood grew up is crucial for learning how other planetary systems are born.

Scientists think the sun and surrounding planets were born from a churning disk of gas and dust, but what precisely caused the stuff to condense and form these bodies has been a mystery. Some clues appear in radioactive elements that were injected into and swam around the presolar cloud. Today, they are embedded in objects such as asteroids, and are thought to mark the first solid bodies that emerged after the cloud’s collapse.

One of these elements, aluminum-26, has helped scientists determine that the solar system was born a little more than 4.5 billion years ago. But the aluminum-26 also presents a puzzle: All of it appears to have enriched the cloud within roughly 20,000 years, much faster than most simulations can explain.

Gritschneder and his colleagues think the nearby supernova solves the aluminum-26 puzzle. In their version of events, all the aluminum-26 would have been incorporated within 18,000 years of the shockwave’s collision, which quickly collapsed the cloud and infused it with the radioactive element. The team ruled out other potential solutions, such as solar wind from a nearby star or enrichment occurring from within the cold cloud itself, because the key elements would have been delivered too slowly or in the wrong quantities. “You have to come up with something creative to make it happen fast enough,” Gritschneder says. “We are confident that the clump can sit there, get hit by a supernova, and get enriched quickly.”

Source and full article: Sciencenews.org

M. Gritschneder, D. N. C. Lin, S. D. Murray, Q. -Z. Yin, & M. -N. Gong (2011). The Supernova Triggered Formation and Enrichment of Our Solar System Astrophysical Journal arXiv: 1111.0012v1

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