News FocusAstrophysics

An Unsettled Debate About the Chemistry of the Sun

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Science  03 Sep 2010:
Vol. 329, Issue 5996, pp. 1144-1145
DOI: 10.1126/science.329.5996.1144

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In 2005, an astrophysicist came out with a new picture of the chemical composition of the sun. His calculations showed that the abundances of carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and neon in the star—the most plentiful elements in it besides hydrogen and helium—were about half as high as researchers had previously worked out. The new values solved a puzzle, because the previous calculations had always made the sun's chemistry seem oddly out of sync with that of its galactic environment. But when researchers plugged the new abundances into models of the solar interior, the resulting predictions about the sun's temperature profile no longer matched observations. The mismatch led to a debate over which of the two was right: the new abundances or the models. Five years later, the question has not been resolved.