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Ancient blue crystals tell the tale of the Sun’s volatile early years

Published Jul 31st, 2018 2:13PM EDT
blue crystals
Image: cloud2013

The Sun is the oldest body in our Solar System — and since everything in our system revolves around it, that obviously makes perfect sense — springing to life somewhere around 4.6 billion years ago. The planets formed millions of years later from the material that was orbiting the star, and because of this it’s actually pretty difficult to find material from the Sun’s formative years preserved in its original state.

Amazingly, scientists now believe they’ve done just that, mining meteorites for tiny crystals that tell the story of our star’s very earliest years. The bold blue crystals, called hibonite, are through to have been formed by the early Sun, revealing its violent and energetic origin story.

The research, which was published in Nature Astronomy, explains how the scientists hunted for material from the Solar System that is even older than Earth itself. Smaller objects in our Solar System like meteoroids and asteroids offer the best chances for finding that kind of ancient material, as they act like time capsules.

Using samples of meteorites from the Field Museum, the researchers were able to find the tiny crystals, and upon studying them they discovered that their unique properties are the result of a very active young Sun. The crystals house tiny bits of neon and helium, both of which are the result of a flood of charged particles beaming out from the Sun and striking the material billions of years ago. The only explanation for these elements trapped within the crystals is that the Sun was much more active in its early years than it is now.

This is some of the very first hard evidence of how the Sun behaved before the formation of the Earth, and while scientists had long suspected that the young Sun was a lot more active than it is today, actually proving it was a monumental challenge.

“What I think is exciting is that this tells us about conditions in the earliest Solar System, and finally confirms a long-standing suspicion,” Philipp Heck, author of the study, explains. “If we understand the past better, we’ll gain a better understanding of the physics and chemistry of our natural world.”

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