A small grain discovered inside a meteorite in Antarctica is shedding light on how our solar system came into existence. Scientists sliced open a meteorite found within the LaPaz icefield located in Antarctica to reveal an interesting and surprising discovery.
Within this meteorite was an inclusion that was determined to come straight from the nova of a white dwarf to the planet Earth. After evaluating the composition of this inclusion, researchers were then able to gain fresh insights into the thermodynamics of the white dwarf novae, which is now teaching us how solar systems similar to ours are formed in the universe.
“Sometimes research is about satisfying your curiosity. One of the greatest curiosities is how the universe was formed and how life started,” stated Jane Howe, who was one of the scientists working on this project. “And this weirdo particle showed us something we didn’t know before.”
How the White Dwarf Created ‘this weirdo particle’
In a certain sense, all things that are composed of similar stardust were also detected within this meteorite from Antarctica —that is matter which comes from stars or the Big Bang. But it is quite rare to come across matter that originates straight from the source. The grain from this LaPaz meteorite, which is now called LAP-149, is now thought to have originated straight from a white dwarf nova.
And because there is no fusion taking place inside a white dwarf, so they generally don’t create new matter for the universe. White dwarfs are actually remnants of old stars that have no energy and have burned all of their fuel. The white glow that they emit is simply residual energy from the fusion reactions of the old star. However, whenever white dwarfs orbit another star within a binary system, they tend to suck away material from its companion star. After the white dwarf has accumulated enough matter from the star companion, it can raise the temperatures to the point that a violent explosion could be triggered.
Whenever a white dwarf goes nova, it will blast out stardust clouds that are composed of different elements that can condense and end up on Earth. This is exactly what occurred with LAP-149, which ended up in the Antarctica.
Secrets Learned from LAP-149’s Composition
So how were the researchers able to determine that LAP-149 really did come from outside the solar system? As they evaluated the material, they discovered that the grain was very highly enriched with a carbon isotope that would only exist outside of our solar system.
“The carbon isotopic compositions in anything we have ever sampled that came from any planet or body in our solar system varies typically by a factor on the order of 50,” noted lead author Pierre Haenecour inside a Press Release from the University of Arizona. “The 13C we found in LAP-149 is enriched more than 50,000-fold. These results provide further laboratory evidence that both carbon- and oxygen-rich grains from novae contributed to the building blocks of our solar system.”
As we take a larger view, we see this work is an amazing example of just how far science has come. Not only could scientists identify that this meteorite was created from stardust clouds that had surrounded a white dwarf star that had undergone an explosive creative process that took place billions of years ago, we were also able to evaluate its composition and figure out exactly how the process unfolded. This allows us to learn much more about future cosmos.