Ancient meteorite reveals secrets of solar system’s birth

Scientists have discovered that the ancient meteorite Erg-Cheh 002 contains important clues about the formation of the solar system. This rare object contains a unique isotope indicating the presence of radioactive material from exploded stars, which can shed light on the environment in which our solar system originated.

Erg-Chech Meteorite 002 provides a glimpse into the past, demonstrating how meteorites can serve as time capsules that hold secrets from billions of years ago. In addition, the information extracted from this meteorite can be used to deepen our understanding of other space rocks.

At the birth of the Sun and other stars, there was a collapse of a dense cloud of gas and dust known as the solar nebula. Under the action of gravity, a tiny star formed from this cloud and as it grew, it accumulated more and more matter. The remaining disk of matter eventually led to the formation of the planets in our solar system.

Although we have a general idea of the composition of the solar nebula, much has changed chemically in the billions of years since its formation. However, meteorites and asteroids are thought to represent a relatively pristine snapshot of the early solar system because they have changed little over time. By studying these objects, scientists can determine when they formed and analyze the composition of the original material.

The Erg Chech 002 meteorite, discovered in 2020 in southwestern Algeria, is an unusual pre-Earth meteorite. Its andesite composition and association with magmatic activity suggest that it came from a planet that was in an early stage of formation and underwent premature evolution.

Of particular interest is the presence of a stable isotope of magnesium-26 in the composition of Erg-Chech 002. This isotope is a byproduct of aluminum-26, a radioactive isotope formed during the explosive death of massive stars called supernovae.

Although the half-life of aluminum-26 is relatively short at 717,000 years, its decay products can be used to determine its presence in materials in the past and to calculate the age of objects in which it is found.

A team of scientists led by cosmochemist Evgeny Krestyaninov of the Australian National University used this isotopic clock to study the distribution of aluminum-26 in the solar nebula. By analyzing the ratio of its radioactive decay products, they were able to calculate the age of Erg Chech 002, matching previous estimates of 4.566 billion years.

This groundbreaking research not only deepens our understanding of the formation of the solar system, but also emphasizes the importance of meteorites as an invaluable source of information about our cosmic origins.

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