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A Serendipitous Supernova

A Serendipitous Supernova

Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/Rutgers/G.Cassam-Chena?, J.Hughes et al.; Radio: NRAO/AUI/NSF/GBT/VLA/Dyer, Maddalena & Cornwell; Optical: Middlebury College/F.Winkler, NOAO/AURA/NSF/CTIO Schmidt & DSS
Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Supernova_Remnant_SN_1006.jpg
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

Serendipity is a fancy word for a happy accident. It appears that our solar system may owe its existence – and by extension humans may owe our existence – to an incredible serendipitous event. Scientists have found that a supernova exploded at just the right time in the birth of our solar system.

Why It Matters

Credit: NASA, ESA and A. Feild (STScI); vectorisation by chris
Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Progenitor_IA_supernova.svg
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

Formation of a Type Ia Supernova [Figure2]

Our solar system was born about 4.6 billion years ago. How can scientists learn about something that happened so long ago? Most meteorites formed during the birth of our solar system. Many meteorites contain evidence of the presence of iron-60 (Fe-60). This radioactive isotope only forms from the incredible energy released in a supernova explosion. The presence of the Fe-60 in the meteorites means that a supernova happened in our neighborhood of the galaxy. This must have occurred not too long before the solar system was born. But did the supernova play another role? Could the energy from the supernova shock wave have caused the sun and planets to form? The exploration of this question is a good example of how science works.

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With the links below, learn more about supernovas. Then answer the following questions.

  1. How do scientists find meteorites?
  2. How does Dr. Wadhwa determine that meteorite samples at one time contained Fe-60?
  3. What does the presence of Fe-60 in the meteorite tell us about the early solar system?
  4. Besides providing chemical elements, what other role does Dr. Alan Boss of the Carnegie Institution of Washington think the supernova explosion played in the formation of the solar system?
  5. Dr.Steve Desch of Arizona State University disagrees with Dr. Boss. What does he think is the problem with Dr. Boss’ hypothesis? What is his alternative?

Image Attributions

  1. [1]^ Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/Rutgers/G.Cassam-Chena?, J.Hughes et al.; Radio: NRAO/AUI/NSF/GBT/VLA/Dyer, Maddalena & Cornwell; Optical: Middlebury College/F.Winkler, NOAO/AURA/NSF/CTIO Schmidt & DSS; Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Supernova_Remnant_SN_1006.jpg; License: CC BY-NC 3.0
  2. [2]^ Credit: NASA, ESA and A. Feild (STScI); vectorisation by chris; Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Progenitor_IA_supernova.svg; License: CC BY-NC 3.0

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