Astronomers Propose Low-Mass Supernova Led To The Birth Of The Solar System

First Posted: Nov 30, 2016 03:40 AM EST

A team of researchers proposes that a low-mass supernova may have triggered the formation of the solar system through the use of evidence from meteorites.

Published in the journal Nature Communications, scientists at the University of Minnesota School of Physics and Astronomy led by Yong-Zhong Qian provided forensic evidence that could shed light on the birth of the solar system.

About 4.6 billion years ago, an event disturbed a cloud of gas and dust, triggering the gravitational collapse that may have catalyzed the formation of the solar system. Dubbed as a core-collapse supernova (CCSN), this would have the energy needed to compress such a cloud. However, there is still no evidence to support this theory, not until now.

Birth Of The Solar System

The team focused in short-lived nuclei present in the young solar system. Because of their short life spans, these nuclei could only have originated from the triggering supernova. Their abundances in the early solar system have been inferred from their decay products in meteorites.

With the debris from the formation of the solar system, meteorites can be compared to the leftover bricks in a construction site. They are evidence of what the solar system is made of and, specifically, what short-lived nuclei the supernova provided.

"This is the forensic evidence we need to help us explain how the solar system was formed," Yong-Zhong Qian, lead author of the study, said in a press release by the University of Minnesota"It points to a low-mass supernova as the trigger," he added.

Low-Mass Supernova

Previous studies on the birth of the solar system focused more on high-mass supernova. However, the researchers decided to test if a low-mass supernova, around 12 times heavier than the Sun, could provide an explanation about the meteoritic record. They began researching about a short-lived nucleus that has four protons, 6 neutrons and weighs 10 mass units, Beryllium-10.

They were able to demonstrate that Beryllium-10 can be produced in both high- and low-mass supernovae, but overall records based on meteorites were only consistent with the scenario that the trigger was a low-mass supernova.

"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," Qian said.

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