Small space crystals reveal sun's youth

Astronomers found that the sun had an explosive and energetic start to its existence.
By Joseph Scalise | Dec 09, 2018
Microscopic space crystals known as hibonite show that the young sun was an explosive, fiery mess, new research in the journal Nature Astronomyreports.

Long before the Earth first formed, the sun jetted out constant eruptions and massive quantities of high-energy particles. Though such events took place long, long ago, hibonite trapped the energy in a way where it can still be observed today.

The tiny crystals are much too small to see with the naked eye. Even so, they contain chemical traces of the early sun that give insight into what our solar system was like long before any of the planets formed.

Stars come about in dense, cold clouds of dust and gas. During that stage, they generate intense heat and pull materials towards their center. Though the sun experiences solar flares and coronal mass ejections today, it used to be much more wild during its stellar birth.

"A young star is more active in that it has more frequent and violent eruptions that launch particles and radiation into its surroundings," said study co-author Philipp Heck, an associate curator of meteoritics and polar studies at The Field Museum in Chicago, according toLive Science.

Stars as big as the sun typically take 50 million years to settle into their mature state. Once there, they can last for tens of billions of years before exploding.

To see if the sun had a energetic youth, researchers from the Field Museum in Chicago analyzed samples collected from the Murchison meteorite that exploded over Australia in 1969. The remains contained dust grains shaped by supernova that existed before the sun.

The team then shot hibonite crystals within the rock with lasers, a process that released the neon and helium inside them. That revealed a unique mix of isotopes that confirmed the sun was extremely energetic billions of years ago.

Such information is important because it sheds new light onto, not just the sun, but the early solar system. That in turn could help scientists get a much better understanding of the mechanisms that govern our universe.

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

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