A newer narrative about our solar system formation is starting to take shape

Jan 27, 2020
My father's mother made the gift of a meteor to me which had crashed through her backyard fence when she was a little girl. I had treasured that small but heavy carbonaceous chondrite meteorite for many years until, like so many treasured items of youth, it was lost or misplaced in one of our moves, either to the country, to Texas or California. Today I would love to hold this lost relic of our early solar system.

Meteorites, like the one I lost, are excellent windows into early solar system formation. Many were formed in the those early days, and unlike rocks on the Earth, most are not affected by billions of years of tectonic activity that wipes away any of their original structure. Recently a team led by Nicolas Dauphas and Justin Hu at the University of Chicago (UC) found that the formation process for many of these meteorites was considerably more violent than we ever thought.

Typical models of the early formation of the solar system have the sun starting out hot and then gradually cooling down as it aged allowing our planets to coalesce from the primordial cloud of dust and larger fragments. However, that model does not fit the findings data present in the paper recently accepted to Science Advances.

The UC team looks carefully at some ceramic chips that were found inside of a meteorite sample. These ceramics are thought to be even older than the surrounding meteorite itself and were thought to be formed in the first 100,000 years of the solar system. This isn’t the first time scientists have attempted to analyze these ceramics, knowing that they held the key to understanding the early solar system.

chondrite_with ceramic chips.jpg
Close up image of the meteorite, and associated ceramic chips, that was used as part of the UC study.
Credit: Hu et all. / University of Chicago

The research team at UC actually invented a completely new type of high specialized purification system to analyze isotopes found in the ceramic chips of meteorites. The isotopes found in the ceramic chips were shown to have been formed at extremely high temperatures (1,300 degrees C) over tens of thousands of years. The environmental conditions needed to form these early stage ceramics were not the same as those described in the current early models of the solar system.

Results like these fit into a newer narrative about solar system formation that is coming into focus. Scientists have already had some data pointing to a much more violent early period of the sun, but the new data from the analysis of the ceramic add a new layer of evidence to the more violent models of early solar system formation.

New technology and ever increasing evidence in the form of new data, will someday give scientists a much more complete and accurate picture of the very early days of our solar system and perhaps help explain why the Earth has allowed life to flourish among the four rocky inner planets.

See: https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/7/2/eabc2962

See: https://www.universetoday.com/150149/the-surprising-discovery-of-ceramic-chips-inside-meteorites-means-there-were-wild-temperature-variations-in-the-early-solar-system/#more-150149

See: https://www.futurity.org/meteorites-ceramic-early-solar-system-2518552/

I love to read articles which result in further explanations about the formation of our solar system. I never imagined ceramic chips in meteorites would be telling such a story. Today, I smile knowing that wherever that lost meteorite of mine is, someday, when the sun swells to its red giant phase, it will again join the solar system from where it started its journey so long ago.
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