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Baby Stars in Orion Solve Solar System MysteryWhat do X-rays, meteoroids, infant stars in the Orion Nebula, and our solar system have in common? Perhaps much more than anyone thought. Eric Feigelson of Penn State University stumbled onto a connection one day while his thoughts were far from the solar system, turned toward the vibrant neighborhood of young stars, hot gas, and caliginous dust of the Orion Nebula. This nebula, 1500 light-years away, is visible to the naked eye in the constellation Orion, a gem to behold with a good pair of binoculars or a telescope under dark skies. In Orion, Feigelson inadvertently found a possible solution to a long-standing mystery about our own solar system: the presence of exotic isotopes locked away in meteoroids. Scientists have assumed that these short-lived isotopes - special forms of atomic nuclei, such as aluminum-26 and calcium-41 - were transported here by a nearby supernova. Only tenuous evidence for such an explosion exists, but what else could have made the isotopes? The isotopes are about as old as the solar system, and the Sun couldn t possibly have been powerful enough to create them. Well, maybe we need to give the Sun a little more credit. Feigelson found that very young, midsized stars in the Orion Nebula - in the same stellar class as our Sun except they are only a million years old - produce powerful flares visible in X-rays. His team spotted these X-ray flares with the Chandra X-Ray Observatory. These baby-tantrum flares are indeed energetic enough to forge heavy isotopes, Feigelson says. If the infant stars in Orion can do it now, then our Sun could have done the same when the solar system was forming about 4.5 billion years ago, when the Sun itself was only a few million years old.
Document ID
20040010611
Document Type
Other
Authors
Wanjek, Christopher (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Greenbelt, MD, United States)
Date Acquired
August 21, 2013
Publication Date
January 1, 2003
Publication Information
Publication: Space Science Reference Guide, 2nd Edition
Subject Category
Astronomy
Distribution Limits
Public
Copyright
Public Use Permitted.

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