Young stars shed light on young sun

Ah, the tempestuousness of youth. Studies of a group of young sunlike stars in the Orion nebula suggest that these infants throw tantrums–flares accompanied by intense X rays–more frequently than some researchers had thought. If our own sun was as active in its youth, then it could be the source of isotopes, such as aluminum-26, calcium-41, and beryllium-10, commonly found in meteorites.

Many researchers have assumed that the isotopes were generated by a nearby supernova explosion, rather than intense activity from the youthful sun, says Eric Feigelson of Pennsylvania State University in State College.

He and his colleagues observed the youthful Orion stars with the orbiting Chandra X-ray Observatory. Chandra “gives us the first chance to study the flaring properties of stars that resemble the sun when our solar system was forming,” Feigelson says. These stars hurl flares 100,000 times more frequently than the sun does today, Feigelson reported Sept. 6 at a meeting of Chandra researchers in Washington, D.C.

Theorist Frank H. Shu of the University of California, Berkeley notes that his team already uses a model in which the infant sun hurls flares with much greater frequency and intensity than the current sun does. He adds that astronomers still need supernovas and other stellar explosions throughout the galaxy to account for some isotopes, such as iron-60, in the solar system.

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