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Theoretical, observational, and isotopic estimates of the lifetime of the solar nebulaThere are a variety of isotopic data for meteorites which suggest that the protostellar nebula existed and was involved in making planetary materials for some 10(exp 7) yr or more. Many cosmochemists, however, advocate alternative interpretations of such data in order to comply with a perceived constraint, from theoretical considerations, that the nebula existed only for a much shorter time, usually stated as less than or equal to 10(exp 6) yr. In this paper, we review evidence relevant to solar nebula duration which is available through three different disciplines: theoretical modeling of star formation, isotopic data from meteorites, and astronomical observations of T Tauri stars. Theoretical models based on observations of present star-forming regions indicate that stars like the Sun form by dynamical gravitational collapse of dense cores of cold molcular clouds in the interstellar clouds in the interstellar medium. The collapse to a star and disk occurs rapidly, on a time scale of the order 10(exp 5) yr. Disks evolve by dissipating energy while redistributing angular momentum, but it is difficult to predict the rate of evolution, particularly for low mass (compared to the star) disks which nonetheless still contain enough material to account for the observed planetary system. There is no compelling evidence, from available theories of disk structure and evolution, that the solar nebula must have evolved rapidly and could not have persisted for more than 1 Ma. In considering chronoloically relevant isotopic data for meteorites, we focus on three methodologies: absolute ages by U-Pb/Pb-Pb, and relative ages by short-lived radionuclides (especially Al-26) and by evolution of Sr-87/Sr-86. Two kinds of meteoritic materials-refractory inclusions such as CAIs and differential meteorites (eucrites and augrites) -- appear to have experienced potentially dateable nebular events. In both cases, the most straightforward interpretations of the available data indicate nebular events spanning several Ma. We also consider alternative interpretations, particularly the hypothesis of radically heterogeneous distribution of Al-26, which would avoid these chronological interpretations. The principal impetus for such alternative interpretations seems to be precisely the obviation of the chronological interpretation (i.e., the presumption rather than the inference of a short (less than or equal to 1 Ma) lifetime of the nebula). Astronomical observations of T Tauri stars indicate that the presence of dusty disks is a common if not universal feature, that the disks are massive enough to accomodate a planetary system such as ours, and that at least some persist for 110(exp 7) yr or more. The results are consistent with the time scales inferred from the meteoritic isotopic data. They cannot be considered conclusive with regard to solar nebula time scales, however, in part because it is difficult to relate disk observations to processes that affect meteorites, and in part because the ages assigned for these stars could be wrong by a factor of several in either direction. We conclude that the balance of available evidence favors the view that the nebula existed and was active for at least several Ma. However, because the evidence is not definitive, it is important that the issue be perceived to be an open question, whose answer should be sought rather than presumed.
Document ID
Document Type
Reprint (Version printed in journal)
Podosek, Frank A. (Washington Univ. Saint Louis, MO, United States)
Cassen, Patrick (NASA Ames Research Center Moffett Field, CA, United States)
Date Acquired
August 16, 2013
Publication Date
January 1, 1994
Publication Information
Publication: Meteoritics
Volume: 29
Issue: 1
ISSN: 0026-1114
Subject Category
Funding Number(s)
PROJECT: RTOP 452-21-93-99
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