Supernova radioisotopes show sun was born in star cluster

Oct 04, 2006

The death of a massive nearby star billions of years ago offers evidence the sun was born in a star cluster, say astronomers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Rather than being an only child, the sun could have hundreds or thousands of celestial siblings, now dispersed across the heavens.

In a paper accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal, astronomy professors Leslie W. Looney and Brian D. Fields, and undergraduate student John J. Tobin take a close look at short-lived radioactive isotopes once present in primitive meteorites. The researchers' conclusions could reshape current theories on how, when and where planets form around stars.

Short-lived radioactive isotopes are created when massive stars end their lives in spectacular explosions called supernovas. Blown outward, bits of this radioactive material mix with nebular gas and dust in the process of condensing into stars and planets. When the solar system was forming, some of this material hardened into rocks and later fell to Earth as meteorites.

The radioisotopes have long since vanished from meteorites found on Earth, but they left their signatures in daughter species. By examining the abundances of those daughter species, the researchers could calculate how far away the supernova was, in both distance and time.

"The supernova was stunningly close; much closer to the sun than any star is today," Fields said. "Our solar system was still in the process of forming when the supernova occurred."

The massive star that exploded was formed in a group or cluster of stars with perhaps hundreds, or even thousands, of low-mass stars like the sun, Fields said. Because the stars were not gravitationally bound to one another, the sun's siblings wandered away millennia ago.

Our solar system, rather than being the exception, could be the rule, the astronomers said. Planetary system formation should be understood in this context.

"We know that the majority of stars in our galaxy were born in star clusters," Looney said. "Now we also know that the newborn solar system not only arose in such a cluster, but also survived the impact of an exploding star. This suggests that planetary systems are impressively rugged, and may be common even in the most tumultuous stellar nurseries."

Source: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Explore further: Astronomical forensics uncover planetary disks in Hubble archive

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Mysteries of nearby planetary system's dynamics solved

Apr 22, 2014

Mysteries of one of the most fascinating nearby planetary systems now have been solved, report authors of a scientific paper to be published by the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society in its ...

How far are the planets from the Sun?

20 hours ago

The eight planets in our solar system each occupy their own orbits around the Sun. They orbit the star in ellipses, which means their distance to the sun varies depending on where they are in their orbits. ...

Exoplanets soon to gleam in the eye of NESSI

Apr 18, 2014

(Phys.org) —The New Mexico Exoplanet Spectroscopic Survey Instrument (NESSI) will soon get its first "taste" of exoplanets, helping astronomers decipher their chemical composition. Exoplanets are planets ...

Recommended for you

Professional and amateur astronomers join forces

9 hours ago

(Phys.org) —Long before the term "citizen science" was coined, the field of astronomy has benefited from countless men and women who study the sky in their spare time. These amateur astronomers devote hours ...

A star's early chemistry shapes life-friendly atmospheres

Apr 23, 2014

Born in a disc of gas and rubble, planets eventually come together as larger and larger pieces of dust and rock stick together. They may be hundreds of light-years away from us, but astronomers can nevertheless ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Habitable exoplanets are bad news for humanity

Last week, scientists announced the discovery of Kepler-186f, a planet 492 light years away in the Cygnus constellation. Kepler-186f is special because it marks the first planet almost exactly the same size as Earth ...

Professional and amateur astronomers join forces

(Phys.org) —Long before the term "citizen science" was coined, the field of astronomy has benefited from countless men and women who study the sky in their spare time. These amateur astronomers devote hours ...

Kazakh satellite to be launched into orbit

Kazakhstan's first-ever Earth observation satellite is to be fired into orbit next week from the European spaceport in Kourou in French Guiana, launch company Arianespace said.