The Cradle of the Solar System

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Science  21 May 2004:
Vol. 304, Issue 5674, pp. 1116-1117
DOI: 10.1126/science.1096808

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The recent discovery of decay products of 60Fe in meteorites challenges conventional wisdom about the environment in which the Sun and planets formed. Rather than a region like the well-studied Taurus-Auriga molecular cloud, the solar system must have formed instead in a region more like the Eagle nebula--a region that contained one or more massive stars that went supernova, injecting newly synthesized radionuclides into the nascent solar system. In their Perspective, Hester et al. discuss a scenario by which the solar system--and other low-mass stars like the Sun--could have formed. Radiant energy from massive, luminous stars first compresses surrounding interstellar gas, triggering the formation of Sun-like stars, then quickly disperses this material, exposing newborn stars and their protoplanetary disks to harsh radiation from the massive stars. When the massive stars go supernova, they pelt surrounding protoplanetary disks with ejecta laden with the products of stellar nucleosynthesis that are required to explain the isotopic composition we see today.