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Step closer to birth of the Sun

08 August 2014

Rachel Atkinson

UCLan professor involved in ground-breaking international research.

International researchers are a step closer to understanding the birth of the Sun.

Published in Science this week, a multi-national research team led by Dr Maria Lugaro of Monash University, including Professor Brad Gibson from the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), has investigated the solar system's prehistoric phase and the events that led to the birth of the Sun.

Brad Gibson research

“We can now tell with confidence the final one per cent of gold, silver and platinum was added to the solar system matter roughly 100 million years before the birth of the Sun."

The team has used radioactivity to date the last time that heavy elements such as gold, silver, platinum, lead and rare-earth elements were added to the solar system matter by the stars that produced them.

“Using heavy radioactive nuclei found in meteorites to time these final additions, we have got a clearer understanding of the prehistory of the solar system,” Dr Lugaro said.

“We can now tell with confidence the final one per cent of gold, silver and platinum was added to the solar system matter roughly 100 million years before the birth of the Sun."

“The final one per cent of lead and rare-earth elements, such as those that make your smart phone, was added much later – at most, 30 million years before the birth of the Sun.”

Professor Gibson, Chairman of Theoretical and Computational Astrophysics within UCLan’s Jeremiah Horrocks Institute, said the detailed timing opened up new opportunities to understand the series of events that led to the formation of the Sun.

“Ultimately, we want to have a clear understanding of the circumstances of the birth of our star.”

Sometime after the last addition of heavy elements the solar system matter went into an ‘incubation’ period, during which time the stellar nursery formed, where the Sun was born together with a number of stellar siblings.

Professor Gibson said: “We now know this incubation period could not have lasted more than 30 million years. This offers us the chance to determine the lifespan of the nursery where the Sun was born.

“Ultimately, we want to have a clear understanding of the circumstances of the birth of our star.”

The research team will now be looking at other heavy radioactive nuclei to get a clearer understanding of the prehistory of the solar system, and improve the accuracy and precision of the timing.

The team involves 10 researchers from six global institutions: Monash University, UCLan, the Australian National University, the University of West Hungary, the Free University of Brussels and the Technical University of Dresden.