Metal formed 100 million years ago could reveal solar system secrets
23 November 2006
Metal formed 100 million years ago could reveal secrets of solar system formation
A new technique to recover samples of metal formed 100 million years ago could help reveal the history of the solar system.
The news is reported in the latest edition of The Royal Society of Chemistry journal The Analyst.
Samarium-146 - an isotope of the metal samarium produced in supernovae - is still present in trace amounts throughout the Earth.
This is because it has a half life of 100 million years, and as such was around at the time the solar system formed.
By measuring the amounts of Samarium-146 in the Earth's crust, a team of German and Indian scientists believe they can find out more about such supernovae and the conditions under which the solar system was formed.
Their main obstacles are the miniscule amounts of Samarium-146 left to measure, and a much larger amount of another isotope with the same mass - Neodymium-146 - which overwhelms the Samarium signal.
Team member Dr Gunther Korschinek, from the Technical University of Munich, Germany, said: "Neodymium-146 is around one million times more abundant in the Earth than the vanishing amounts of Samarium-146."
The overcome the problem, the team developed a liquid-liquid extraction technique which can successfully extract the tiny amounts of Samarium from the Neodymium. The Samarium is then measured using accelerator mass spectrometry.
Dr Korschinek said: "The technique gives us a handle for the first time to look for Samarium-146 in natural samples - and look back in time to before our solar system was formed."
with thanks to Clare Boothby for the original article
S Maji, S Lahiri, B Wierczinski and G Korschinek, Analyst, 2006
Improvements in samarium detection could tell us more about how the solar system formed.
Contact and Further Information
Royal Society of Chemistry, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London, W1J 0BA
Tel: +44 (0) 20 7440 3322 or +44 (0) 7770 431013