Blue meteorite crystals reveal Sun's 'terrible twos'

A new study examines ancient blue meteorite crystals to shed light on the Sun's highly active early years.
By Tyler MacDonald | Sep 26, 2018
Although our Sun's beginnings are shrouded in mystery, a new study that examines ancient blue meteorite crystals sheds light on the rowdy start of the Milky Way's giant star.

"The Sun was very active in its early lifeit had more eruptions and gave off a more intense stream of charged particles. I think of my son, he's three, he's very active too," said Philipp Heck from University of Chicago and co-author of the study.

"Almost nothing in the Solar System is old enough to really confirm the early Sun's activity, but these minerals from meteorites in the Field Museum's collections are old enough," he added. "They're probably the first minerals that formed in the Solar System."

The team examined the crystals using a state-of-the-art mass spectrometer in Switzerland to determine their chemical make-up. And in cobination with a laser, the team was able to melt a tiny grain of hibonite crystal in the meteorite, which in turn released the neon and helium trapped inside.

"We got a surprisingly large signal, clearly showing the presence of helium and neonit was amazing," said lead authorLevke Kp.

The new study is evidence that the Milky Way's oldest materials went through an irradiation phase that younger materials were able to avoid.

"We think that this means that a major change occurred in the nascent Solar System after the hibonites had formedperhaps the Sun's activity decreased, or maybe later-formed materials were unable to travel to the disk regions in which irradiation was possible," Kp said.

"What I think is exciting is that this tells us about conditions in the earliest Solar System, and finally confirms a long-standing suspicion," Heck added. "If we understand the past better, we'll gain a better understanding of the physics and chemistry of our natural world."

The findings were published in Nature Astronomy.

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