Study Finds New Clues How Was Our Solar System Born | Learn Inside

A study of the Ophiuchus star-forming complex has offer new insights into the conditions in which our own solar system was born.

Click here to read the study were publish in the journal Nature Astronomy.

A region of active star formation in the constellation Ophiuchus is giving new insights into the conditions in which our own solar system was born.

The study show how our solar system may have become enriched with short-lived radioactive elements.

Evidence of this enrichment process has been around since the 1970s when scientists studying certain mineral inclusions in meteorites concluded that they were pristine remnants of the infant solar system and contain the decay products of short-lived radionuclides.

These radioactive elements could have been blown onto the nascent solar system by a nearby exploding star or by the strong stellar winds from a type of massive star known as a Wolf-Rayet star.

The researchers of the new study use multi-wavelength observations of the Ophiuchus star-forming region which includs spectacular new infrared data to reveal interactions between the clouds of star-forming gas and radionuclides produce in a nearby cluster of young stars.

Their findings indicate that supernovas in the star cluster are the most likely source of short-lived radionuclides in the star-forming clouds.

Douglas N. C. Lin, professor and co-author emeritus of astronomy and astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz Said :

“Our solar system was most likely form in a giant molecular cloud together with a young stellar cluster, and one or more supernova events from some massive stars in this cluster contaminated the gas which turned into the sun and its planetary system,”

“Although this scenario has been suggest in the past, the strength of this paper is to use multi-wavelength observations and a sophisticated statistical analysis to deduce a quantitative measurement of the model’s likelihood,”.

First author John Forbes at the Flatiron Institute’s Center for Computational Astrophysics Said :

Data from space-based gamma-ray telescopes enable the detection of gamma rays emitted by the short-lived radionuclide aluminum-26.

“These are challenging observations. We can only convincingly detect it in two star-forming regions, and the best data are from the Ophiuchus complex,”.

The Ophiuchus cloud complex contains many dense protostellar cores in various stages of star formation and protoplanetary disk development, representing the earliest stages in the formation of a planetary system.

By combining imaging data in wavelengths ranging from millimetres to gamma rays, the researchers were able to visualise a flow of aluminum-26 from the nearby star cluster toward the Ophiuchus star-forming region.

First author John Forbes Said :

“The enrichment process we’re seeing in Ophiuchus is consistent with what happened during the formation of the solar system 5 billion years ago,” .

“Once we saw this nice example of how the process might happen, we set about trying to model the nearby star cluster that produced the radionuclides we see today in gamma rays,”.

John Forbes develop a model that accounts for every massive star that could have exist in this region, including its mass, age, and probability of exploding as a supernova, and incorporates the potential yields of aluminum-26 from stellar winds and supernovas.

The model enabled him to determine the probabilities of different scenarios for the production of the aluminum-26 observed today.

First author John Forbes Said :

“We now have enough information to say that there is a 59 per cent chance it is due to supernovas and a 68 per cent chance that it’s from multiple sources and not just one supernova,”.

This type of statistical analysis assigns probabilities to scenarios that astronomers have been debating for the past 50 years, Lin noted.

First author John Forbes Said :

“This is the new direction for astronomy, to quantify the likelihood,”.

The new findings also show that the amount of short-lived radionuclides incorporated into newly forming star systems can vary widely.

First author John Forbes Said :

“Many new star systems will be born with aluminum-26 abundances in line with our solar system, but the variation is huge – several orders of magnitude,”.

“This matters for the early evolution of planetary systems since aluminum-26 is the main early heating source. More aluminum-26 probably means drier planets,”.

The infrared data which enables the team to peer through dusty clouds into the heart of the star-forming complex was obtained by coauthor Joao Alves at the University of Vienna as part of the European Southern Observatory’s VISION survey of nearby stellar nurseries using the VISTA telescope in Chile.

Joao Alves, coauthor at the University of Vienna Said :

“There is nothing special about Ophiuchus as a star formation region,”.

“It is just a typical configuration of gas and young massive stars, so our results should be representative of the enrichment of short-lived radioactive elements in star and planet formation across the Milky Way,” .

The researchers team also use data from the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Herschel Space Observatory, the ESA’s Planck satellite, and NASA’s Compton Gamma Ray Observatory.


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