What can you learn from a grain of sand?

Two grains actually.  Scientists studying grains of sand carried to earth in meteorites found in Antarctica have been able to determine information about how our solar system was formed.

This method of studying stars can provide information that can’t be found with traditional astronomical means using telescopes or other observations.

Two tiny grains of silica (SiO2), the most common component of sand, were found in primitive meteorites.  What makes these two grains of sand interesting is the fact that silica is not one of the minerals expected to be found from when our solar system condensed from a dust cloud from a previous nova or supernova.

Most of the material that makes up our solar system came from red giants.  We know this because of the isotopic composition found everywhere we have looked in the area. Different stars produce different amounts of isotopes.  Our solar system has a homogenous isotopic composition.

The two grains, however, are believed to have originated from a core-collapse supernova.  Most grains of sand previously found were rich in oxygen-17, which indicates that they probably came from a red giant or AGB stars. But these grains contained oxygen-18, which meant they came from a core-collapse supernova, not a red giant. Also, the two grains were found from two different meteor, but have similar isotopic compositions.  This indicates that the grains of sand may have come from the same supernova.

A massive star that will explode at the end of its life, a core-collapse supernova has a layered structure rather like that of an onion.  Our Sun will not end up like that.  It doesn’t have enough mass to blow sky high, so to speak.

Oh, the things you find in the sand.

– Ex astris, scientia –

I am and avid amateur astronomer and intellectual property attorney in Pasadena, Californai. As a former Chief Petty Officer in the U.S. Navy, I am a proud member of the Armed Service Committee of the Los Angeles County Bar Association working to aid all active duty and veterans in our communities. Connect with me on Google +