Ancient stardust in meteorites—A new source of cosmic material

Walker, Robert M.
June 2000
AIP Conference Proceedings;2000, Vol. 516 Issue 1, p47
Academic Journal
Micron sized, presolar grains of SiC and graphite (as well as other phases not discussed here) found in mineral separates of primitive meteorites constitute a new source of cosmic material. The grains are identified by anomalous isotopic ratios in both major and minor elements. In some cases, these differ from average solar system values by a factor >10[sup 3]. The SiC grains can be separated into distinct isotopic families representing different stellar sources. Only two types are discussed here—“mainstream” SiC grains, constituting ∼98% of the total and less abundant X-grains that constitute <1% of the total. The former have isotopic ratios characteristic of S-process nucleosynthesis and are believed to be condensates formed in the atmospheres of AGB stars. In contrast, X grains have isotopic patterns characteristic of R-process nucleosynthesis and are believed to be supernovae condensates. In addition to giving a wealth of new detail on the nuclear processes in different stars, the grains open up entirely new avenues of research. For example, electron microscope mineralogical/petrographic studies of microtomed grains give insight on the processes of grain growth. Molecules of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are common in the graphite grains. Isotopic measurements demonstrate that some of the PAHs formed from the same suite of atoms as the parent grains and are thus indigenous. The relationship of presolar grains to cosmic ray physics is briefly considered. Overall, the grain work serves to deepen the mystery of the similarity of isotopic ratios measured in cosmic rays to those of Solar System materials. © 2000 American Institute of Physics.


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