AUG 19, 2021 10:14 AM PDT

Researchers Observe the Birth of New Solar Systems

WRITTEN BY: Annie Lennon

Astronomers are gaining new insights on how our solar system was born from observations of a nearby star-forming region in the constellation Ophiuchus. The research was published in Nature Astronomy

In the 1970’s, scientists reported finding short-lived radionuclides inside of meteorites. They said that these elements were either blown into the nascent solar system by a nearby exploding star or by strong stellar winds from a kind of massive star called a Wolf-Rayet star. Now, for the first time, scientists may have been able to observe this process in action. 

In the present study, scientists examined multiwavelength observations of the star-forming region in Ophiuchus, including new infrared data, to understand the interactions between star-forming gas clouds and radionuclides produced in a nearby cluster of young stars. 

Their observations included imaging data in wavelengths from millimeters to gamma rays, enabling them to visualize the flow of aluminum-26 from a nearby star cluster towards the star-forming region. 

To verify their observations, the researchers created a model of the nearby star cluster. They included details of the mass, age, and probability of exploding into a supernova of every massive star that could have existed in the region. Their model also incorporated the potential yields of aluminum-26 from stellar winds and supernovas. 

From their model, they found that while there is a 59% chance that the observed aluminum-26 came from supernovas, there is a 68% chance it comes from multiple sources and not just one supernova. 

"Many new star systems will be born with aluminum-26 abundances in line with our solar system, but the variation is huge -- several orders of magnitude," said first author of the study, John Forbes, "This matters for the early evolution of planetary systems, since aluminum-26 is the main early heating source. More aluminum-26 probably means drier planets."

"There is nothing special about Ophiuchus as a star formation region," said Joao Alves, co-author of the study. "It is just a typical configuration of gas and young massive stars, so our results should be representative of the enrichment of short-lived radioactive elements in star and planet formation across the Milky Way."


Sources: Nature AstronomyScience Daily

About the Author
Annie Lennon is a writer whose work also appears in Medical News Today, Psych Central, Psychology Today, and other outlets. When she's not writing, she is COO of Xeurix, an HR startup that assesses jobfit from gamified workplace simulations.
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