Armed with evidence from meteorites and new models, astronomers are proposing that it's possible that a low-mass supernova may have triggered the formation of the solar system.
In a study published in the journal Nature Communications, Yong-Zhong Qian and colleagues provided forensic evidence that would not only help explain how the solar system was formed but also what possibly triggered the event: a low-mass supernova.
Solar System Formation: Where It All Began
Some 4.6 billion years ago, a dust and gas cloud was disturbed, resulting in a gravitational collapse that gave birth to a proto-Sun surrounded by a disc where planets formed. To compress that dust and gas cloud, a massive amount of energy would be needed, which a supernova could provide. However, there was no concrete proof to back this theory. Also, it wasn't clear what the triggering supernova's nature was.
Qian and colleagues directed their attention to short-lived nuclei that existed in the early days of the solar system. Short-lived nuclei could have only come from the triggering supernova because they don't last a long time. They were also believed to be in abundance in the early solar system, after researchers discovered the nuclei's byproducts in meteorites, which may be considered as leftover materials, like rubble in a construction site. This left clues as to what the solar system was made of and what kind of short-lived nuclei the supernova provided when it triggered the formation of the solar system.
High- Vs. Low-Mass Supernovae
The researchers observed that earlier works had focused on solar system formation as triggered by a high-mass supernova. However, a high-mass supernova trigger didn't leave evidence on meteorites the same way that low-mass supernova did.
To see if a low-mass supernova could have been the trigger for solar system formation, Qian and colleagues started looking at Beryllium-10, a short-lived nucleus featuring 6 neutrons and 4 protons, and was common in meteorites. They were able to show that Beryllium-10 can be produced in both high- and low-mass supernovae but overall records based on meteorites was only consistent with the scenario that the trigger was a low-mass supernova.
"The findings in this paper have opened up a whole new direction in our research," said Qian.
The researchers were also able to show that low-mass supernova could also be used to explain other short-lived nuclei, like Palladium-107 and Calcium-41, but they would like to continue studying the mysteries of these remnants in meteorites.
For a future study, Qian and colleagues are looking to focus on Boron-11 and Lithium-7, which are produced alongside Beryllium-10.