Constraints on the Formation Age of Cometary Material from the NASA Stardust Mission

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Science  23 Apr 2010:
Vol. 328, Issue 5977, pp. 483-486
DOI: 10.1126/science.1184741

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Sun Stuff

Comets are thought to be remnants of the Sun's protoplanetary disk; hence, they hold important clues to the processes that originated the solar system. Matzel et al. (p. 483, published online 25 February) present Al-Mg isotope data on a refractory particle recovered from comet Wild 2 by the NASA Stardust mission. The lack of evidence for the extinct radiogenic isotope 26Al implies that this particle crystallized 1.7 million years after the formation of the oldest solar system solids. This observation, in turn, requires that material formed near the Sun was transported to the outer reaches of the solar system and incorporated into comets over a period of at least two million years.


We measured the 26Al-26Mg isotope systematics of a ~5-micrometer refractory particle, Coki, returned from comet 81P/Wild 2 in order to relate the time scales of formation of cometary inclusions to their meteoritic counterparts. The data show no evidence of radiogenic 26Mg and define an upper limit to the abundance of 26Al at the time of particle formation: 26Al/27Al < 1 × 10−5. The absence of 26Al indicates that Coki formed >1.7 million years after the oldest solids in the solar system, calcium- and aluminum-rich inclusions (CAIs). The data suggest that high-temperature inner solar system material formed, was subsequently transferred to the Kuiper Belt, and was incorporated into comets several million years after CAI formation.

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