One of the most extraordinary features of the solar system is that it contains adequate abundances of all the elements essential for advanced life. What makes it so exceptional is that the elements must come from different sources: asymptotic giant branch stars, a Type I supernova (see here and here), Type II supernovae of at least two different types, white dwarf binary stars, and now, according to a new study also from a “faint supernova with mixing fallback.”1
A team of six Japanese astronomers, plus an American astronomer, carefully recorded the amounts of decay products from the following short-lived radionuclides (SLRs): beryllium-10, aluminum-26, chlorine-36, calcium-41, manganese-53, iron-60, palladium-107, iodine-129, and hafnium-182. In their calculations the team demonstrated that ejection of heavy-element material into the primordial solar system’s protoplanetary disk came from all but the last source mentioned above. However, none of these astrophysical sources can account for the early solar system’s abundances of SLRs with half-lives less than five million years, namely aluminum-26, calcium-41, manganese-53, and iron-60.
The astronomers’ calculations revealed that a rare kind of supernova could explain the solar system’s abundances of these particular SLRs. This supernova type is a low-luminosity (that is, faint) supernova where, during the star’s explosion, the inner region of the star experiences mixing. A small fraction of the mixed material is ejected into the interstellar medium and the remainder falls back into the core. In the words of the research team, “The modeled SLR abundances agree well with their solar system abundances.”
They also calculated the time interval between the explosion of the faint supernova and the formation of solar system’s oldest solid materials. That interval is approximately equal to one million years. The faint supernova eruption would need to be quite near the solar system forming region but not so close as to disturb its formation. Likewise, the timing and the proximity for the other sources (asymptotic giant branch stars, Type I supernova, Type II supernovae of at least two different types, white dwarf binary stars) of the heavy elements would need to be similarly fine-tuned.
SLRs make two important contributions to the solar system. One, they are heat sources for primordial asteroidal metamorphism and/or differentiation. Primordial asteroids are the building blocks for the solar system’s rocky planets (Mars, Earth, Venus, and Mercury). Thus, Earth’s exceptional interior differentiation (a crucial factor for establishing its strong, long-lasting magnetic field) is due, in part, to the primordial solar nebula’s exceptional abundances of SLRs.
Two, they provide high-resolution chronometers for events that took place during the first few million years of the solar system’s formation. Continuing studies could potentially yield a detailed history for early solar system events with a timing precision of better than a hundred thousand years for the different occurrences. Such historical accuracy could deliver much more evidence for the supernatural design of the solar system for life’s, and humanity’s, benefit.
- A. Takigawa et al., “Injection of Short-Lived Radionuclides into the Early Solar System from a Faint Supernova with Mixing Fallback,” Astrophysical Journal 688 (December 1, 2008): 1382-87.