Meteorites are excellent windows into early system formation. Many were formed within those youth, and in contrast to rocks on the world, most aren’t suffering from billions of years of tectonic activity that wipes away any of their original structure. Recently a team led by Nicolas Dauphas and Justin Hu at the University of Chicago (UC) found that the formation process for several of those meteorites was far more violent than previously thought.
Typical models of the first formation of the system have the sun starting out hot then gradually cooling down because it aged. That model doesn’t fit the findings data present within the paper recently accepted to Science Advances.
In it, the team looks carefully at some ceramic chips that were present inside a meteorite sample. Normally, these ceramics are thought to be even older than the encompassing meteorite itself and were likely formed within the first 100,000 years of the system. This isn’t the primary time scientists have attempted to research these ceramics, knowing that they held the key to understanding the first system.
Previously efforts were held back by technological limitations however, and if there’s one thing that engineering is extremely good at its overcoming technological limitations. The research team at UC actually invented a totally new sort of high specialized purification system to research isotopes found within the ceramic chips of meteorites.
Meteorites don’t only come from the first system – some, like this “Black Beauty” meteorite, come from Mars, and have a really different chemical composition than those studied by the UC team.
The new tool showed that the isotopes present within the ceramic chips must are formed at extremely high temperatures (1,300 degrees C) over extremely long periods of times (tens of thousands of years). In short, environmental conditions needed to make these early stage ceramics weren’t an equivalent as those within the current early models of the system.
Findings like these fit into a more modern narrative about system formation that’s beginning to form. Scientists have already had some data pointing to a way more violent early period of the sun, but the new data from the analysis of the ceramic add a replacement layer of evidence to the more violent models of early system formation.
Some meteorites embedded themselves within the Earth, like this “fossil meteorite”. That formation impacts not only meteorites but also planetary formation processes like those of Earth, Mars, and Venus. Insight into early system formation models could lead on to raised understanding of why just one of the three main rocky planets is believed to be habitable, and other mysteries have escaped from long like planetary formation by scientists.
The above close up image is of the meteorite with ceramic chips, that was used as a part of the UC study. Understanding meteorite composition is merely one small a part of that effort though. With new technology and ever increasing evidence within the sort of new data, someday scientists will have a way more complete and accurate picture of the very youth of our system.