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The Economic Case for Wind and Solar Energy in Africa

To meet skyrocketing demand for electricity, African countries may have to triple their energy output by 2030. While hydropower and fossil fuel power plants are favored approaches in some quarters, a new assessment by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory has found that wind and solar can be economically and environmentally competitive options and can contribute significantly to the rising demand.

Chemists ID Catalytic 'Key' for Converting CO2 to Methanol

Results from experiments and computational modeling studies that definitively identify the "active site" of a catalyst commonly used for making methanol from CO2 will guide the design of improved catalysts for transforming this pollutant to useful chemicals.

Cryo-Electron Microscopy Achieves Unprecedented Resolution Using New Computational Methods

Cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM)--which enables the visualization of viruses, proteins, and other biological structures at the molecular level--is a critical tool used to advance biochemical knowledge. Now Berkeley Lab researchers have extended cryo-EM's impact further by developing a new computational algorithm instrumental in constructing a 3-D atomic-scale model of bacteriophage P22 for the first time.

New Study Maps Space Dust in 3-D

A new Berkeley Lab-led study provides detailed 3-D views of space dust in the Milky Way, which could help us understand the properties of this dust and how it affects views of distant objects.

Single-Angle Ptychography Allows 3D Imaging of Stressed Materials

Scientists have used a new X-ray diffraction technique called Bragg single-angle ptychography to get a clear picture of how planes of atoms shift and squeeze under stress.

New Feedback System Could Allow Greater Control Over Fusion Plasma

A physicist has created a new system that will let scientists control the energy and rotation of plasma in real time in a doughnut-shaped machine known as a tokamak.

Towards Super-Efficient, Ultra-Thin Silicon Solar Cells

Researchers from Ames Laboratory used supercomputers at NERSC to evaluate a novel approach for creating more energy-efficient ultra-thin crystalline silicon solar cells by optimizing nanophotonic light trapping.

Study IDs Link Between Sugar Signaling and Regulation of Oil Production in Plants

UPTON, NY--Even plants have to live on an energy budget. While they're known for converting solar energy into chemical energy in the form of sugars, plants have sophisticated biochemical mechanisms for regulating how they spend that energy. Making oils costs a lot. By exploring the details of this delicate energy balance, a group of scientists from the U.

High-Energy Electrons Probe Ultrafast Atomic Motion

A new technique synchronized high-energy electrons with an ultrafast laser pulse to probe how vibrational states of atoms change in time.

Rare Earth Recycling

A new energy-efficient separation of rare earth elements could provide a new domestic source of critical materials.


Valerie Taylor Named Argonne National Laboratory's Mathematics and Computer Science Division Director

Computer scientist Valerie Taylor has been appointed as the next director of the Mathematics and Computer Science division at Argonne, effective July 3, 2017.

Three SLAC Employees Awarded Lab's Highest Honor

At a March 7 ceremony, three employees of the Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory were awarded the lab's highest honor ­- the SLAC Director's Award.

Dan Sinars Represents Sandia in First Energy Leadership Class

Dan Sinars, a senior manager in Sandia National Laboratories' pulsed power center, which built and operates the Z facility, is the sole representative from a nuclear weapons lab in a new Department of Energy leadership program that recently visited Sandia.

ORNL, HTS International Corporation to Collaborate on Manufacturing Research

HTS International Corporation and the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory have signed an agreement to explore potential collaborations in advanced manufacturing research.

Jefferson Lab Director Honored with Energy Secretary Award

Hugh Montgomery, director of the Department of Energy's Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility (Jefferson Lab), was awarded The Secretary's Distinguished Service Award by the Secretary of Energy earlier this year.

New Projects to Make Geothermal Energy More Economically Attractive

Geothermal energy, a clean, renewable source of energy produced by the heat of the earth, provides about 6 percent of California's total power. That number could be much higher if associated costs were lower. Now scientists at the Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) have launched two California Energy Commission-funded projects aimed at making geothermal energy more cost-effective to deploy and operate.

Southern Research Project Advances Novel CO2 Utilization Strategy

The U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Fossil Energy has awarded Southern Research nearly $800,000 for a project that targets a more cost-efficient and environmentally friendly method of producing some of the most important chemicals used in manufacturing.

Harker School Wins 2017 SLAC Regional Science Bowl Competition

After losing its first match of the day to the defending champions, The Harker School's team won 10 consecutive rounds to claim victory in the annual SLAC Regional DOE Science Bowl on Saturday, Feb. 11.

Francis Alexander Named Deputy Director of Brookhaven Lab's Computational Science Initiative

Alexander brings extensive management and leadership experience in computational science research to the position.

Kalinin, Paranthaman Elected Materials Research Society Fellows

Two researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Sergei Kalinin and Mariappan Parans Paranthaman, have been elected fellows of the Materials Research Society.


High-Energy Electrons Probe Ultrafast Atomic Motion

A new technique synchronized high-energy electrons with an ultrafast laser pulse to probe how vibrational states of atoms change in time.

Rare Earth Recycling

A new energy-efficient separation of rare earth elements could provide a new domestic source of critical materials.

Modeling the "Flicker" of Gluons in Subatomic Smashups

A new model identifies a high degree of fluctuations in the glue-like particles that bind quarks within protons as essential to explaining proton structure.

Rare Nickel Atom Has "Doubly Magic" Structure

Supercomputing calculations confirm that rare nickel-78 has unusual structure, offering insights into supernovas.

Microbial Activity in the Subsurface Contributes to Greenhouse Gas Fluxes

Natural carbon dioxide production from deep subsurface soils contributes significantly to emissions, even in a semiarid floodplain.

Stretching a Metal Into an Insulator

Straining a thin film controllably allows tuning of the materials' magnetic, electronic, and catalytic properties, essential for new energy and electronic devices.

How Moisture Affects the Way Soil Microbes Breathe

Study models soil-pore features that hold or release carbon dioxide.

ARM Data Is for the Birds

Scientists use LIDAR and radar data to study bird migration patterns, thanks to the Atmospheric Radiation Measurement (ARM) Climate Research Facility.

The Future of Coastal Flooding

Better storm surge prediction capabilities could help reduce the impacts of extreme weather events, such as hurricanes.

Estimating Global Energy Use for Water-Related Processes

Scientists find that water-related energy consumption is increasing across the globe, with pronounced differences across regions and sectors.


Friday March 24, 2017, 10:40 AM

Great Neck South High School Wins Regional Science Bowl at Brookhaven Lab

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Middle Schoolers Test Their Knowledge at Science Bowl Competition

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Haslam Visits ORNL to Highlight State's Role in Discovering Tennessine

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Internship Program Helps Foster Development of Future Nuclear Scientists

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More Than 12,000 Explore Jefferson Lab During April 30 Open House

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NMSU Undergrad Tackles 3D Particle Scattering Animations After Receiving JSA Research Assistantship

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Shannon Greco: A Self-Described "STEM Education Zealot"

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Meet Robert Palomino: 'Give Everything a Shot!'

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University of Utah Makes Solar Accessible

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Student Innovator at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Seeks Brighter, Smarter, and More Efficient LEDs

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Scientists Estimate Solar Nebula's Lifetime

Article ID: 669281

Released: 2017-02-10 10:05:52

Source Newsroom: Brookhaven National Laboratory

  • Credit: NASA/JHUAPL

    Depiction of the solar nebula dispersal in action about 3 million years after the solar system formed.

NOTE: This news release was issued on February 9, 2017 by MIT News. Physicist Jun Wang and former postdoc (now scientific associate) Jiajun Wang of the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory contributed to the research. Using transmission x-ray microscopy (TXM) nanoimaging, they identified and characterized the chemical composition and the grain size of magnetic particles within ancient igneous meteorites. The analyses provided accurate estimates of the intensities of the early solar system’s magnetic fields (as preserved in the meteorites); this information is key to setting the time scale of the evolution of the solar nebula—the cloud of dust and gas particles thought to be behind the development of our solar system—and the formation of planets. The TXM data were collected at Brookhaven’s National Synchrotron Light Source (NSLS) and the Advanced Photon Source (APS) at DOE’s Argonne National Laboratory through the NSLS-II TXM transition program. The TXM instrument was temporarily relocated to APS in 2015 when NSLS was replaced by NSLS-II. The instrument will remain at APS until its new beamline at NSLS-II is constructed. NSLS-II (and the former NSLS) and APS are DOE Office of Science User Facilities.

About 4.6 billion years ago, an enormous cloud of hydrogen gas and dust collapsed under its own weight, eventually flattening into a disk called the solar nebula. Most of this interstellar material contracted at the disk’s center to form the sun, and part of the solar nebula’s remaining gas and dust condensed to form the planets and the rest of our solar system.

Now scientists from MIT and their colleagues have estimated the lifetime of the solar nebula — a key stage during which much of the solar system evolution took shape.

This new estimate suggests that the gas giants Jupiter and Saturn must have formed within the first 4 million years of the solar system’s formation. Furthermore, they must have completed gas-driven migration of their orbital positions by this time.

“So much happens right at the beginning of the solar system’s history,” says Benjamin Weiss, professor of earth, atmospheric, and planetary sciences at MIT. “Of course the planets evolve after that, but the large-scale structure of the solar system was essentially established in the first 4 million years.”

Weiss and MIT postdoc Huapei Wang, the first author of this study, report their results today in the journal Science. Their co-authors are Brynna Downey, Clement Suavet, and Roger Fu from MIT; Xue-Ning Bai of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics; Jun Wang and Jiajun Wang of Brookhaven National Laboratory; and Maria Zucolotto of the National Museum in Rio de Janeiro.

Spectacular recorders

By studying the magnetic orientations in pristine samples of ancient meteorites that formed 4.563 billion years ago, the team determined that the solar nebula lasted around 3 to 4 million years. This is a more precise figure than previous estimates, which placed the solar nebula’s lifetime at somewhere between 1 and 10 million years.

The team came to its conclusion after carefully analyzing angrites, which are some of the oldest and most pristine of planetary rocks. Angrites are igneous rocks, many of which are thought to have erupted onto the surface of asteroids very early in the solar system’s history and then quickly cooled, freezing their original properties — including their composition and paleomagnetic signals — in place.

Scientists view angrites as exceptional recorders of the early solar system, particularly as the rocks also contain high amounts of uranium, which they can use to precisely determine their age.

“Angrites are really spectacular,” Weiss says. “Many of them look like what might be erupting on Hawaii, but they cooled on a very early planetesimal.”

Weiss and his colleagues analyzed four angrites that fell to Earth at different places and times.

“One fell in Argentina, and was discovered when a farm worker was tilling his field,” Weiss says. “It looked like an Indian artifact or bowl, and the landowner kept it by this house for about 20 years, until he finally decided to have it analyzed, and it turned out to be a really rare meteorite.”

The other three meteorites were discovered in Brazil, Antarctica, and the Sahara Desert. All four meteorites were remarkably well-preserved, having undergone no additional heating or major compositional changes since they originally formed.

Measuring tiny compasses

The team obtained samples from all four meteorites. By measuring the ratio of uranium to lead in each sample, previous studies had determined that the three oldest formed around 4.563 billion years ago. The researchers then measured the rocks’ remnant magnetization using a precision magnetometer in the MIT Paleomagnetism Laboratory.

“Electrons are little compass needles, and if you align a bunch of them in a rock, the rock becomes magnetized,” Weiss explains. “Once they’re aligned, which can happen when a rock cools in the presence of a magnetic field, then they stay that way. That’s what we use as records of ancient magnetic fields.”

When they placed the angrites in the magnetometer, the researchers observed very little remnant magnetization, indicating there was very little magnetic field present when the angrites formed.

The team went a step further and tried to reconstruct the magnetic field that would have produced the rocks’ alignments, or lack thereof. To do so, they heated the samples up, then cooled them down again in a laboratory-controlled magnetic field.

We can keep lowering the lab field and can reproduce what’s in the sample,” Weiss says. “We find only very weak lab fields are allowed, given how little remnant magnetization is in these three angrites.”

Specifically, the team found that the angrites’ remnant magnetization could have been produced by an extremely weak magnetic field of no more than 0.6 microteslas, 4.563 billion years ago, or, about 4 million years after the start of the solar system.

In 2014, Weiss’ group analyzed other ancient meteorites that formed within the solar system’s first 2 to 3 million years, and found evidence of a magnetic field that was about 10-100 times stronger — about 5-50 microtesla.

“It’s predicted that once the magnetic field drops by a factor of 10-100 in the inner solar system, which we’ve now shown, the solar nebula goes away really quickly, within 100,000 years,” Weiss says. “So even if the solar nebula hadn’t disappeared by 4 million years, it was basically on its way out.”

The planets align

The researchers’ new estimate is much more precise than previous estimates, which were based on observations of faraway stars.

“What’s more, the angrites’ paleomagnetism constrains the lifetime of our own solar nebula, while astronomical observations obviously measure other faraway solar systems,” Wang adds. “Since the solar nebula lifetime critically affects the final positions of Jupiter and Saturn, it also affects the later formation of the Earth, our home, as well as the formation of other terrestrial planets.”

Now that the scientists have a better idea of how long the solar nebula persisted, they can also narrow in on how giant planets such as Jupiter and Saturn formed. Giant planets are mostly made of gas and ice, and there are two prevailing hypotheses for how all this material came together as a planet. One suggests that giant planets formed from the gravitational collapse of condensing gas, like the sun did. The other suggests they arose in a two-stage process called core accretion, in which bits of material smashed and fused together to form bigger rocky, icy bodies. Once these bodies were massive enough, they could have created a gravitational force that attracted huge amounts of gas to ultimately form a giant planet.

According to previous predictions, giant planets that form through gravitational collapse of gas should complete their general formation within 100,000 years. Core accretion, in contrast, is typically thought to take much longer, on the order of 1 to several million years. Weiss says that if the solar nebula was around in the first 4 million years of solar system formation, this would give support to the core accretion scenario, which is generally favored among scientists.

“The gas giants must have formed by 4 million years after the formation of the solar system,” Weiss says. “Planets were moving all over the place, in and out over large distances, and all this motion is thought to have been driven by gravitational forces from the gas. We’re saying all this happened in the first 4 million years.”

This research was supported, in part, by NASA and a generous gift from Thomas J. Peterson, Jr.

Brookhaven National Laboratory is supported by the Office of Science of the U.S. Department of Energy. The Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit science.energy.gov.