Our Solar System: Now 2 Million Years Older

by Nancy Atkinson on August 23, 2010

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Our solar system is beautiful and aging gracefully, but it might be even older than we originally thought, by as much as 2 million years. A group of scientists analyzed lead isotopes within a 1.49-kilo (3.2-pound) meteorite found in the Moroccan desert in 2004 and found evidence that suggests the mineral was formed 4.56 billion years ago, making the meteorite the oldest object ever found. This finding is between 300,000 and 1.9 million years older than previous estimates.

Marking the age of the Solar System has been defined as the time of formation of the first solid grains in the nebular disc surrounding the proto-Sun, and this has been done previously dating calcium–aluminium-rich inclusions in meteorites.

The team, led by Audrey Bouvier and Meenakshi Wadhwa of Arizona State University’s the Center for Meteorite Studies, looked at the extent to which uranium-238 and uranium-235 isotopes had decayed into their daughter isotopes lead-207 and lead-206.

Previous studies that dated the solar system looked at the Efremovka and Allende meteorites found in Kazakhstan in 1962 and Mexico in 1969, respectively.

While the timing may not seem like a big difference for something that is billions of years old, Bouvier said in New Scientist that it could make a difference when pinning down the conditions that led to the solar system’s formation, and those needed for other life-friendly planetary systems to form.

Their study was published by the journal Nature Geoscience.

Nature paper: Bouvier, A. & Wadhwa, M. Nature Geosci. advance online publication doi:10.1038/NGEO941 (2010).

Sources: New Scientist, PhysOrg

About 

Nancy Atkinson is Universe Today's Senior Editor. She also is the host of the NASA Lunar Science Institute podcast and works with Astronomy Cast. Nancy is also a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

manjula August 23, 2010 at 8:14 AM

Why do they think that meteorite is a part of Solar system to check the age of the solar system using that? I think there is a possibility that that meteorite come from another solar system or outer space far far away from our solar system. If that is so, it can have more age than our solar system. What do you think???

Torbjorn Larsson OM August 23, 2010 at 6:43 AM

This comes a few weeks after work suggesting that the “anomalous” CAIs were a tad too old dated (1 My, IIRC) because of an earlier data suggested simplification on isotopes that wasn’t strictly true. If the new dating ranges overlaps, presumably we have converged on one factual date.

Feynmanfan August 23, 2010 at 7:00 AM

Oh, just great. Not only is the Solar System older than we thought but, according to the picture, Uranus orbits further out from the Sun than Neptune. Whatever happened to the good-ole days when the age of the universe was a comprehensible six thousand years? Why can’t science just leave us alone in our certitude?

clatonium August 23, 2010 at 7:30 AM

um, I think somebody needs to be photoshopped out of this family photo.

Torbjorn Larsson OM August 23, 2010 at 8:35 AM

Manjula, interstellar matter has been found (as dust) and hypothesized (as exchanged comets in the Oort belt). But our system has a unique material and isotope signature as well as age.

The coincidence in age is unlikely for different sources. The signatures should clinch the matter; and the ref says the meteor belongs to a known asteroid group (the CV3 group) which, again most likely, originates from an in system source event.

Torbjorn Larsson OM August 23, 2010 at 8:47 AM

“source event”. Oops, I don’t know that it is from a single collision breakup (which I believe it often is). Say “source”, and it is still correct.

Uncle Fred August 23, 2010 at 11:52 AM

Sorry Pluto, you were invited into this image by mistake. Have a drink and go home buddy.

sillybear7 August 23, 2010 at 10:53 PM

The solar system was thought to be 4.56 Billion years old. The new measurements say that is 1.9 Million years older than that. That is an increase of 0.04%, which isn’t really surprising.

jellyfish August 23, 2010 at 11:36 PM

I was wondering about that too, sillybear7. With the age given as 4.56 billion years, another 2 million years, or 0.002 of a biliion years, would make no difference to the figure. What’s going on?

Torbjorn Larsson OM August 24, 2010 at 2:11 AM

Jellyfish, I believe what is going on is what I alluded to above. I’m in an astrobiology class, and while the material may not be up to date there are some interesting dating of diverse material (which affects models of solar system formation) and ambiguities in our type case: Earth and solar system formation.

One ambiguity is/was that CAI was dated ~ 1 My (IIRC) earlier than other material, but a few weeks back there was some update on that. Better data handling may push CAIs together with the others.

The new find would now create ambiguity in the other direction at a guess.

Unless there is an overlap in the range estimates. Which would be groovy, because then a likely date is pinned down. If not, maybe solar system formation models must be changed.

So those last My are important. It’s somewhat like a log scale, because then the system formed, a lot of stuff happened early (and decided much of the rest).

Torbjorn Larsson OM August 24, 2010 at 2:18 AM

Oops. CAI = “calcium–aluminium-rich inclusions” in the article. They were used for dating because they are supposed to be thermally stable, so could form earlier – and the ambiguity made it look so.

Well, maybe not: the new CAI dating method and the new data here may throw everything up in the air. And that is before looking at models and how they would be modified.

Hope all of this makes some small sense. It would take a UT post, or a series of them, and probably expert help, to cover the material fairly.

Torbjorn Larsson OM August 24, 2010 at 2:50 AM

Bummer, the paywall paper at least says that CAIs _were_ used for dating here too. So there will be no reconciliation between this and the earlier findings, and they will at most push in different directions. Sorry about the confusion!

Lawrence B. Crowell August 24, 2010 at 7:19 AM

Last year there was a recalibration of some nuclear decay rates for elements with long life times. This focused particularly on uranium isotopes. This redating of the solar system age is a small adjustment in accord with these new data. It not that much, or about as if a middle aged person learned their actual birthdate occurred a day earlier than thought.

LC

Jon Hanford August 24, 2010 at 9:08 AM

Somewhat OT but related to nuclear decay rates, an unexpected linkage has been noted between solar flares and radioactive decay of some elements on Earth. From the PhysOrg article: “The radioactive decay of some elements sitting quietly in laboratories on Earth seemed to be influenced by activities inside the sun” and “There is even an outside chance that this unexpected effect is brought about by a previously unknown particle emitted by the sun.” Full story: http://www.physorg.com/news201795438.html

I hope UT picks up this story.

Torbjorn Larsson OM August 24, 2010 at 2:01 PM

Thanks LBC, I think I made the wrong connection and you the correct.

Olaf August 25, 2010 at 3:35 AM

@Jon Hanford ,

About the article.
I really doubt that neutrino’s could change radioactive decay. I mean these particles travel through the planet without even hitting an atom and they are nearly impossible to detect. So what magic would have to happen that some radioactive isotope could be hit by neutrino’s.

A more likely cause is the measuring equipment being influenced by the sun in some way or another. .

Lawrence B. Crowell August 25, 2010 at 4:24 AM

The physics of radioactive decay rates is strange. This is the sort of physics I hate to see come about, and when it does I prefer that it goes away. I took a couple of courses from E. Fischbach, a big proponent of this, and the guy is curious to say the least. Back then he was all over the map over the “fifth force,” which has faded away like the morning fog. Much the same might happen here. Fischbach is attracted to the quirky aspects of physics. He is intrigued by these oddities, for there is always a chance something might come about that changes everything. That is what we have going on here.

From at least a first glance this simply does not make any sense. There can be all sorts of complicated stuff with solar physics and variations in nuclear processes and neutrino production. How this could causally affect the nuclear or weak interaction forces is utterly implausible. My only hunch is that if something is really going on that there is some quantum entanglement involving the quantum fields of these forces that is somehow set up. I am not going to put any bet on this, for even still this is an extreme dark horse prospect. Neutrinos produced in the core of the sun interact so weakly with anything sitting on a lab bench, whether that being a neutrino detector or an isotope of some element, that it is difficult to imagine there being some causal process going on here.

LC

Jon Hanford August 25, 2010 at 5:11 AM

@Olaf & LC,

Thanks for your feedback on that story! It left me scratching my head too. A google search for “Fischbach” did indeed lead me to earlier ‘curious’ claims mentioned by LC. This seems to be another claim with a high degree of “dubiousity” (as Phil Plait might say :D ).

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