What was here before the solar system?

May 29, 2015 by Fraser Cain, Universe Today
Artist’s conception of the Milky Way galaxy. Credit: Nick Risinger

The solar system is old. Like, dial-up-fax-machine-old. 4.6 billion years to be specific. The solar system has nothing on the universe. It's been around for 13.8 billion years, give or take a few hundred million. That means the universe is three times older than the solar system.

Astronomers think the Milky Way, is about 13.2 billion years old; almost as old as the universe itself. It formed when smaller dwarf galaxies merged together to create the grand spiral we know today. It turns out the Milky Way has about 8.6 billion years of unaccounted time. Billions and billions of years to get up to all kinds of mischief before the solar system showed up to keep an eye on things.

Our galaxy takes 220 million years to rotate, so it's done this about 60 times in total. As it turns, it swirls and mixes material together like a giant space blender. Clouds of gas and dust come together into vast star forming regions, massive stars have gone supernova, and then the clusters themselves have been torn up again, churning the stars into the Milky Way. This happens in the galaxy's spiral arms, where the areas of higher density lead to regions of .

So let's go back, more than 4.6 billion years, before there was an Earth, a sun, or even a solar system. Our entire region was gas and dust, probably within one of the . Want to know what it looked like? Some of your favorite pictures from the Hubble Space Telescope should help.

The solar system is 4.5 billion years old, but the universe is much older. What was here before our solar system formed?

Here's the Orion, Eagle, and the Tarantula Nebulae. These are star forming regions. They're clouds of hydrogen left over from Big Bang, with dust expended by aging stars, and seeded with heavier elements formed by supernovae.

After a few million years, regions of higher density began forming into stars, both large and small. Let's take a look at a star-forming nebula again. See the dark knots? Those are newly forming stars surrounded by gas and dust in the stellar nursery.

You're seeing many many stars, some are enormous monsters, others are more like our sun, and some smaller red dwarfs. Most will eventually have planets surrounding them – and maybe, eventually life? If this was the environment, where are all those other stars?

Why do I feel so alone? Where are all our brothers and sisters? Where's all the other stuff that's in that picture? Where's all my stuff?

The Orion Nebula. Image Credit: Vasco Soeiro

Apparently nature hates a messy room and a cozy stellar nest. The nebula that made the sun was either absorbed into the stars, or blown away by the powerful stellar winds from the largest stars. Eventually they cleared out the nebula, like a fans blowing out a smoky room.

At the earliest point, our looked like the Eagle Nebula, after millions of years, it was more like the Pleiades Star Cluster, with bright stars surrounded by hazy nebulosity. It was the gravitational forces of the Milky Way which tore the members of our solar nursery into a structure like the Hyades Cluster. Finally, gravitational interactions tore our cluster apart, so our sibling were lost forever in the churning arms of the Milky Way.

We'll never know exactly what was here before the ; that evidence has long been blown away into space. But we can see other places in the Milky Way that give us a rough idea of what it might have looked like at various stages in its evolution.

TRAPPIST First Light Image of the Tarantula Nebula. Credit: ESO

Explore further: More than a million stars are forming in a mysterious dusty gas cloud in a nearby galaxy

Related Stories

Our Sun came late to the Milky Way's star-birth party

April 9, 2015

In one of the most comprehensive multi-observatory galaxy surveys yet, astronomers find that galaxies like our Milky Way underwent a stellar "baby boom," churning out stars at a prodigious rate, about 30 times faster than ...

A bubbly cosmic celebration

May 27, 2015

In the brightest region of the nebula RCW 34, gas is heated and expands through the surrounding cooler gas. Once the heated hydrogen reaches the borders of the gas cloud, it bursts outwards into the vacuum like the contents ...

A grand extravaganza of new stars

March 11, 2015

This dramatic landscape in the southern constellation of Ara (The Altar) is a treasure trove of celestial objects. Star clusters, emission nebulae and active star-forming regions are just some of the riches observed in this ...

Chemical fingerprints of ancient supernovae found

March 23, 2015

A Carnegie-based search of nearby galaxies for their oldest stars has uncovered two stars in the Sculptor dwarf galaxy that were born shortly after the galaxy formed, approximately 13 billion years ago. The unusual chemical ...

Recommended for you

Archaeologists discover Incan tomb in Peru

February 16, 2019

Peruvian archaeologists discovered an Incan tomb in the north of the country where an elite member of the pre-Columbian empire was buried, one of the investigators announced Friday.

Where is the universe hiding its missing mass?

February 15, 2019

Astronomers have spent decades looking for something that sounds like it would be hard to miss: about a third of the "normal" matter in the Universe. New results from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory may have helped them ...

What rising seas mean for local economies

February 15, 2019

Impacts from climate change are not always easy to see. But for many local businesses in coastal communities across the United States, the evidence is right outside their doors—or in their parking lots.

The friendly extortioner takes it all

February 15, 2019

Cooperating with other people makes many things easier. However, competition is also a characteristic aspect of our society. In their struggle for contracts and positions, people have to be more successful than their competitors ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

1 / 5 (6) May 29, 2015
I am.
1 / 5 (8) May 29, 2015
Sub: Perception and Vision
in-adequacy of the present day Science is self evident. 4.5 B years to 13.8 B Yrs -is incomplete frame to rely upon for Cosmology studies.
Evidently , there is a need to look at origins- Vedas provide interlinks and one needs to search in depth ancient texts.
It is high time east west Cosmology centers of Excellence come up for Knowledge base culture.
Thank you Fraser Cain. Misleads through Big-bang and LHC self-contradictions must be attended in time .
Science in philosophy through cosmology studies help in time Dimensional Vision of the Universe and multi-Universe as part of Cosmos.
1 / 5 (6) May 30, 2015
"Here's the Orion, Eagle, and the Tarantula Nebulae. These are star forming regions."

You look one short period of time at one region of cosmic space and see just a snapshot of the entire film. And cosmic investigators understand its meaning? What a talented researchers! Or demonstration of wishfull thinking.which earning their wages. We do not know the their is a process of star formation. How could someting to form in environment that is expanding according to their own theories with close to luminal speed?
And where is the remnants of this hypotetical proto claud from which the solar system was formed? Where is the other remnants for other proto clauds? Mistery?
Captain Stumpy
5 / 5 (8) May 30, 2015
You look one short period of time at one region of cosmic space and see just a snapshot of the entire film. And understand its meaning? What talented cosmic detective!
i'm still not dead yet!
interesting you should word this in the way you did, because that is exactly what forensic investigators do: take snapshots of the crime scene and the evidence they collect and re-create what happened with incredible accuracy and success

one reason only: the scientific method
we do not know the their is process of star formation
maybe creationists don't know, but physicists are pretty sure already
but you are ignoring a LOT of facts to spout your religious nonsense, and your final sentence proves that!

tell you what, go here: http://ocw.mit.edu/index.htm
learn some actual physics/astrophysics first
THEN come back and talk about the science

that is if your bible lets you

knowledge is dangerous to religions
one reason they burned scientists in the past
1 / 5 (6) May 30, 2015
Give explanations. Decratrations are not interesting. I doubt that you are able to explain the reasons to beleave in god of happy chance with scientific methods. Because the reason is emotional. Well stocked with quotes from various sources but your own thinking is highly inefficient to explain this miracles.
Captain Stumpy
5 / 5 (10) May 30, 2015
Decratrations are not interesting
i'm still not dead yet
WTF are "Decratrations" ??
I doubt that you are able to explain the reasons to beleave in god of happy chance with scientific methods
why would i want to describe or justify your delusion with science?
Because the reason is emotional. Well stocked with quotes from various sources but your own thinking is highly inefficient to explain this miracles
religion is full of emotion
like hate, judgement and fear
that is why it is used to effectively control large groups
also - what good would it do to explain anything when you have/still ignore links/proof to actual proven science which supports my conclusions?
that is why i left the MIT link for you above

perhaps if you would try to educate yourself, you would learn about the overwhelming stupidity of your continued parroting of the same debunked diatribe

thanks for trolling
1 / 5 (6) May 30, 2015
Cristianity is relationship with God based on truth and love.

AI asjked question. Atre ypou able to give the answers with yopur words or you do not want to risk not to become obvious your lack of knowledge. So you give me foreign quotes with idea someone else to take responsibility.
5 / 5 (10) May 30, 2015
Viko. Your ideas are daft, and your spelling and grammar are worse.
2 / 5 (4) May 30, 2015
Do you have something to say on the subject? Any arguments that we can discuss here? I do not care for your personal attitude to the participants in this forum.
May 30, 2015
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
1 / 5 (6) May 30, 2015
The Oort cloud does not exist in reality. It is imaginaty objects. Try some more realistic explanation.

"There are also indicia, that the solar system has been dragged into Milky Way from outside as a part of some satellite dwarf galaxy. "

The hypotheses are not accepted as evidence in true sciense.

5 / 5 (6) May 30, 2015
lol i finally had to ignore viko. as entertaining as he was i just couldn't stop laughing or shaking my head after he said the ort cloud isn't real. you could really bust a stitch in your side trying to take this guy seriously
5 / 5 (6) May 30, 2015
I just loved this statement from Viko "Cristianity is relationship with God based on truth and love." What like the truth and trust between priests and children???? Death row for you lot that turn a blind eye to that shit happening amongst your so called religious figures. Let's not mention holy wars. Let's not mention that there are many religions... which one is the TRUE religion?? How can that be tested??? By causing wars and see which side God is on???
Look there may be some kind of "creator", but it sure as hell has no relationship to human based mass religion!!!!

The best religion is Science. It is the same the world over, and can be tested by anyone willing to learn and reveal the worlds truth for themselves. The beauty is independent repeatability. Amazing how I can't turn water into wine, unless I actually follow some science. Follow the "recipe" and you can cook a "cake". Clap your hands and sing hallelujah, and I'm afraid nothing happens.
5 / 5 (7) May 31, 2015
The Oort cloud does not exist in reality. It is imaginaty objects. Try some more realistic explanation.
The hypotheses are not accepted as evidence in true sciense.

What do you have against the Oort cloud? I'm sure it has something to do with your young earth creationist worldview but I'm drawing a blank trying to imagine how your god and bible are against it.
I would like you to show how your god created everything using true science viko. unsupported claims of god creating everything is self evident is not science. The bible has no place either.
Make a model and test it and write a paper on your experiments and results and how they prove god exists scientifically.
I have an open mind. If you can actually do as I've asked I will convert to your religion. Unlike you I have a mind open to possibilities and ideas other than those I currently believe unlike you creationists.
Captain Stumpy
5 / 5 (7) May 31, 2015
Oort cloud is hypothetical object with which some cosmologies try to explain the origin of some asteroids and comets but nobody ever observed it.
no one has observed you, either, so there is no proof that you exist as a person

PLUS, i hate to keep pointing this out to you but:
there is not one piece of empirical evidence or even credible observed proof that your sky faerie exists either

and before you say something about your bible, remember that archeological and other evidence has proven that it is not authored by who it is attributed to, it has plagiarized other religions and modified their myths for personal gain and that there is NO evidence that supports most of the claims made therein, either!
lose on all fronts for you, and for all creationists/xtians etc
Captain Stumpy
5 / 5 (2) Jun 02, 2015
I honestly confess that your logic is difficult for me
you are claiming that the Oort cloud is hypothetical simply because no one has observed it, although there is strong empirical evidence supporting the existence of it

you don't have anywhere NEAR the same level of strong empirical evidence supporting that you exist as a person (to anyone here on PO)

the best you can do is point to your claims of having a profile here: yet there are bots here as well as multiple sock puppets for certain people, from zephir to the electric universe acolytes

therefore, you cannot claim that there is any evidence that you exist that is empirical nor strong enough to be validated through secondary sources, like the evidence for theOort cloud

IOW - The Oort Cloud has far stronger and more empirical evidence for existence than you OR your sky faerie combined

get it now?

a major power of the scientific method is it's validation of evidence

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.