Oldest stuff on Earth found inside meteorite that hit Australia

14 Janvier, 2020, 16:14 | Auteur: Therese Cote
  • The grains are older than the sun

Some were also found to be older than 5.5 billion years old.

Microscopic grains of dead stars are the oldest known material on the planet - older than the moon, Earth and the solar system itself.

When stars die, particles formed within them are flung out into space.

Heck and colleagues also hypothesize that the majority of the grains in the study could have formed during a period of active star formation about 7 billion years ago, which would have produced large amounts of dust roughly 4.6 to 4.9 billion years ago-the same age as most of the grains. Last year, researchers found a new mineral from the Wedderburn meteorite that was found in Australia 70 years ago. That was before the Sun was born.

These bits of stardust became trapped in meteorites where they remained unchanged for billions of years, making them capsules of the cosmic time before the solar system, the researchers said.

A new study of the presolar grains of the Murchison meteorite recovered in Australia was published Monday in the Proceedings of the journal National Academy of Sciences.

"This is one of the most exciting studies I've worked on", lead study author and a curator at the Field Museum Philipp Heck said in a statement.

"Once all the pieces are segregated, it's a kind of paste, and it has a pungent characteristic - it smells like rotten peanut butter".

This whiffy paste modified into as soon as then dissolved in acid, leaving only the stardust.

Researchers compared the process to burning down a haystack to find the needle.

To date the material, the researchers used a unique technique to measure the effects of cosmic rays hitting the grains.

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By measuring how numerous new cosmic-ray produced elements are present in a pre-solar grain, scientists can tell how long it was exposed to cosmic rays, telling them how old it is.

"I review this with striking out a bucket in a rainstorm". By measuring the quantity of different elements in presolar grains, scientists can estimate how long the dust has been bathing in cosmic rays. Though it's uncertain what bound these grains, other studies have shown that some presolar grains are coated with a sticky film of organic matter, which could have cemented these clusters together, Heck said.

The researchers found that the ages of the silicon carbide grains they studied ranged from roughly the age of the sun to about three billion years older.

"In order to explain our age distribution, where we have many more younger grains that we would otherwise expect, we have to explain this by this dust forming from more stars than normal", he said. The oldest known minerals that have formed on Earth are found in the rocks of the Australian Jack Hills, which formed 4.4 billion years ago, 100 million years after the planet was formed.

The team looks forward to all of these discoveries furthering our knowledge of our Galaxy.

"These hits are pretty constant over time, so we can just count the products from those hits and determine how long they were flying in space", Heck said.

Heck noted that there are lifetimes' worth of questions left to answer about presolar grains and the early Solar System. "Once learning about this, how do you want to study anything else?"

Murchison is really interesting because it's not being cooked up that much in the asteroid from which it came from, hence more of these delicate grains survived than would have in an asteroid with more geological activity going on.

Each individual grain of stardust has a chemical composition unique to the parent star it came from.

When small to medium stars (from about 0.5 to 5 times the mass of the Sun) approach the ends of their lives, they expand into red giant stars and blow off their outer layers.

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