The chondrite meteorites take their name from chondrules, the nearly spherical, silicate-rich particles they contain. They are the most abundant type of stony meteorite, and contain some of the first objects to have formed in the Solar System, including calcium-aluminum-rich inclusions and chondrules. Chondrules, sub-mm to mm size igneous spheres, formed in the early Solar System ~4.5 billion years ago from flash-heated little clumps of dust. Many questions, however, still remain: How did these dust grains stick together, where did this dust come from, and how long was our early Solar System dusty?
A recent paper led by Center Assistant Director Dr. Devin Schrader, in collaboration with Dr. Kazuhide Nagashima (University of Hawai‘i at Manoa), Dr. Scott Waitukaitis (Leiden University), Dr. Jemma Davidson (Carnegie Institution of Washington), Dr. Tim McCoy (Smithsonian Institution), Dr. Harold Connolly (Rowan University), and Dr. Dante Lauretta (University of Arizona), determined that dust likely stuck together via particle agglomeration by electrostatic charging of grains during collision, chondrules in part formed from refractory inclusions, and our Solar System retained a dusty disk until at least ~3.7 million years after the formation of the first solids.
This exciting new research not only strengthens the link between comets and meteorites by contraining the physical distribution of solids in the early Solar System, especially in comet-forming regions, but also gives a strong indication of the mechanism of chondrule formation, based on particle morphology.