Solar system's youth gives clues to planet search

Jul 24, 2013

Comets and meteorites contain clues to our solar system's earliest days. But some of the findings are puzzle pieces that don't seem to fit well together. A new set of theoretical models from Carnegie's Alan Boss shows how an outburst event in the Sun's formative years could explain some of this disparate evidence. His work could have implications for the hunt for habitable planets outside of our solar system. It is published by The Astrophysical Journal.

One way to study the solar system's formative period is to look for samples of small crystalline particles that were formed at high temperatures but now exist in icy comets. Another is to analyze the traces of —versions of elements with the same number of protons, but a different number of neutrons—found in primitive meteorites. These isotopes decay and turn into different, so-called daughter, elements. The initial abundances of these isotopes tell researchers where the isotopes may have come from, and can give clues as to how they traveled around the .

Stars are surrounded by disks of rotating gas during the early stages of their lives. Observations of that still have these gas disks demonstrate that sun-like stars undergo periodic bursts, lasting about 100 years each, during which mass is transferred from the disk to the young star.

But analysis of particles and isotopes from comets and meteorites present a mixed picture of , more complicated than just a one-way movement of matter from the disk to the star. The heat-formed crystalline grains found in icy comets imply significant mixing and outward movement of matter from close to the star to the outer edges of the solar system. Some isotopes, such as aluminum, support this view. However, isotopes of the element oxygen seem to paint a different picture.

Boss' new model demonstrates how a phase of marginal in the gas disk surrounding a proto-sun, leading to an outburst phase, can explain all of these findings. The results are applicable to stars with a variety of masses and disk sizes. According to the model, the instability can cause a relatively rapid transportation of matter between the star and the gas disk, where matter is moved both inward and outward. This accounts for the presence of heat-formed crystalline particles in comets from the solar system's outer reaches.

According to the model, the ratios of aluminum isotopes can be explained by the parent isotope having been injected in a one-time event into the planet-forming disk by a shock wave from an exploding star and then traveling both inward and outward in the disk. The reason oxygen isotopes are present in a different pattern is because they are derived from sustained chemical reactions occurring on the surface of the outer solar nebula, rather than from a one-time event.

"These results not only teach us about the formation of our own solar system, but also could aid us in the search for other stars orbited by ," Boss said. "Understanding the mixing and transport processes that occur around Sun-like stars could give us clues about which of their surrounding planets might have conditions similar to our own."

Explore further: New simulation shows disk anomalies around stars may not be planets after all

More information: The Astrophysical Journal, 2013; 773 (1): 5 Doi: 10.1088/0004-637X/773/1/5

Related Stories

Modeling Jupiter and Saturn's possible origins

Mar 05, 2013

New theoretical modeling by Carnegie's Alan Boss provides clues to how the gas giant planets in our solar system—Jupiter and Saturn—might have formed and evolved. His work was published recently by the ...

Two Solar System puzzles solved

Jul 25, 2012

Comets and asteroids preserve the building blocks of our Solar System and should help explain its origin. But there are unsolved puzzles. For example, how did icy comets obtain particles that formed at high ...

Fingering the culprit that polluted the Solar System

Aug 02, 2012

(Phys.org) -- For decades it has been thought that a shock wave from a supernova explosion triggered the formation of our Solar System. According to this theory, the shock wave also injected material from ...

Snow falling around infant solar system

Jul 18, 2013

Astronomers using the new Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) telescope have taken the first-ever image of a snow line in an infant solar system. This frosty landmark is thought to play an ...

Fragments falling onto the Sun

Jul 01, 2013

(Phys.org) —Stars form as gravity coalesces the gas and dust in an interstellar cloud until the material develops clumps dense enough to become stars. Even after a star begins to burn its nuclear fuel it ...

Recommended for you

Cosmologists weigh cosmic filaments and voids

2 hours ago

(Phys.org) —Cosmologists have established that much of the stuff of the universe is made of dark matter, a mysterious, invisible substance that can't be directly detected but which exerts a gravitational ...

ESO image: A study in scarlet

Apr 16, 2014

This new image from ESO's La Silla Observatory in Chile reveals a cloud of hydrogen called Gum 41. In the middle of this little-known nebula, brilliant hot young stars are giving off energetic radiation that ...

Astronomers: 'Tilt-a-worlds' could harbor life

Apr 15, 2014

A fluctuating tilt in a planet's orbit does not preclude the possibility of life, according to new research by astronomers at the University of Washington, Utah's Weber State University and NASA. In fact, ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Cosmologists weigh cosmic filaments and voids

(Phys.org) —Cosmologists have established that much of the stuff of the universe is made of dark matter, a mysterious, invisible substance that can't be directly detected but which exerts a gravitational ...

Meteorites yield clues to Martian early atmosphere

(Phys.org) —Geologists who analyzed 40 meteorites that fell to Earth from Mars unlocked secrets of the Martian atmosphere hidden in the chemical signatures of these ancient rocks. Their study, published ...

Let's put a sailboat on Titan

The large moons orbiting the gas giants in our solar system have been getting increasing attention in recent years. Titan, Saturn's largest moon, is the only natural satellite known to house a thick atmosphere. ...