Earliest stage of planet formation dated

December 19, 2007

UC Davis researchers have dated the earliest step in the formation of the solar system -- when microscopic interstellar dust coalesced into mountain-sized chunks of rock -- to 4,568 million years ago, within a range of about 2,080,000 years.

UC Davis postdoctoral researcher Frederic Moynier, Qing-zhu Yin, assistant professor of geology, and graduate student Benjamin Jacobsen established the dates by analyzing a particular type of meteorite, called a carbonaceous chondrite, which represents the oldest material left over from the formation of the solar system.

The physics and timing of this first stage of planet formation are not well understood, Yin said. So, putting time constraints on the process should help guide the physical models that could be used to explain it.

In the second stage, mountain-sized masses grew quickly into about 20 Mars-sized planets and, in the third and final stage, these small planets smashed into each other in a series of giant collisions that left the planets we know today. The dates of those stages are well established.

Carbonaceous chondrites are made up of globules of silica and grains of metals embedded in black, organic-rich matrix of interstellar dust. The matrix is relatively rich in the element manganese, and the globules are rich in chromium. Looking at a number of different meteorites collected on Earth, the researchers found a straight-line relationship between the ratio of the amount of manganese to that of chromium, the amount of matrix in the meteorites, and the amount of chromium-53.

These meteorites never became large enough to heat up from radioactive decay, so they have never been melted, Yin said. They are "cosmic sediments," he said.

By measuring the amount of chromium-53, Yin said, they could work out how much of the radioactive isotope manganese-53 had initially been present, giving an indication of age. They then compared the amount of manganese-53 to slightly younger igneous (molten) meteorites of known age, called angrites.

The UC Davis researchers estimate the timing of the formation of the carbonaceous chondrites at 4,568 million years ago, ranging from 910,000 years before that date to 1,170,000 years later.

"We've captured a moment in history when this material got packed together," Yin said.
-end-
The work is published in the Dec. 20 issue of Astrophysical Journal Letters, and was funded by grants from NASA.

University of California - Davis

Related Solar System Articles from Brightsurf:

Ultraviolet shines light on origins of the solar system
In the search to discover the origins of our solar system, an international team of researchers, including planetary scientist and cosmochemist James Lyons of Arizona State University, has compared the composition of the sun to the composition of the most ancient materials that formed in our solar system: refractory inclusions in unmetamorphosed meteorites.

Second alignment plane of solar system discovered
A study of comet motions indicates that the Solar System has a second alignment plane.

Pressure runs high at edge of solar system
Out at the boundary of our solar system, pressure runs high.

What a dying star's ashes tell us about the birth of our solar system
A UA-led team of researchers discovered a dust grain forged in a stellar explosion before our solar system was born.

What scientists found after sifting through dust in the solar system
Two recent studies report discoveries of dust rings in the inner solar system: a dust ring at Mercury's orbit, and a group of never-before-detected asteroids co-orbiting with Venus, supplying the dust in Venus' orbit.

Discovered: The most-distant solar system object ever observed
A team of astronomers has discovered the most-distant body ever observed in our solar system.

Discovery of the first body in the Solar System with an extrasolar origin
Asteroid 2015 BZ509 is the very first object in the Solar System shown to have an extrasolar origin.

First interstellar immigrant discovered in the solar system
A new study has discovered the first known permanent immigrant to our solar system.

A star disturbed the comets of the solar system in prehistory
About 70,000 years ago, when the human species was already on Earth, a small reddish star approached our solar system and gravitationally disturbed comets and asteroids.

Scientists detect comets outside our solar system
Scientists from MIT and other institutions, working closely with amateur astronomers, have spotted the dusty tails of six exocomets -- comets outside our solar system -- orbiting a faint star 800 light years from Earth.

Read More: Solar System News and Solar System Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.