From rocky planet fragments in the outer layers of white dwarfs, we turn to ceramic chips embedded in meteorites and break our previously held theories a little more.
Let’s start with the earlier theory that our Sun cooled gently and steadily over time, and the surrounding solar gas quietly condensed, creating these ceramic chips that ended up in meteorites. Then take one graduate student, Justin Hu, and let him analyze those chips using some of that radiometric dating we’ve been explaining the past week or so. Shake in a patented purification system developed by his research lab, and voila! You break a planetary formation theory.
As Hu explains: The results indicated that temperatures these ceramic inclusions encountered as they formed would have been over 1,600 Kelvin—or about 2,400 degrees Fahrenheit—over tens to hundreds of years.
What does that actually mean? It means that our Sun was not as quiet and gentle as previously thought and was, in fact, flaring and experiencing temperature fluctuations that affected the surrounding environment. However, to be fair, we’ve seen these flares in young stars in other systems. We just didn’t know if our own system had experienced them. So it’s not so much breaking a theory as finding out our solar system, you know, that one example we had for so very long, well, that system actually matches observations elsewhere.
Co-author Andrew M. Davis adds: This isn’t the first evidence that the early stages of our sun were violent years, but there’s a richness to these findings that allows us to say more about the timescale over which this occurred—which is many, many days.
Friendly reminder that science is not static. We can advance what we know by collecting more and more data. Progressing from one stellar system, our own, to many stellar systems means we really do narrow down on those formation processes, even if we keep teasing that we’ll never really know them.
University of Chicago press release
“Heating events in the nascent solar system recorded by rare earth element isotopic fractionation in refractory inclusions,” J. Y. Hu et al., 2021 January 6, Science Advances