Research Theme

Astrophysical Context of Life


Leadership team:  S. Desch (lead), F. Timmes, M. Wadhwa

This research theme aims to elucidate the influence of supernovae and other nucleosynthetic processes on the formation of solar systems, their composition and evolution. A particular focus is the production and distribution of the short-lived isotope 26Al, the abundance of which may affect the distribution of water in rocky planetesimals and planets. The theme includes tasks involving: High-precision isotopic studies of meteorites to quantify the timescales of the injection of supernova-derived materials; computational modeling of the physical and chemical evolution of massive stars; quantification of the injection of supernova ejecta to star-forming molecular clouds  and protoplanetary disks; modeling the chemical evolution of star-forming regions; determining what elements might be used as observational proxies in stellar spectra for elements and isotopes not amenable to direct observation; and incorporate element abundance data in the “HabCat” of nearby stars that could support life.

Summary of tasks under this research theme: 

Task 1:  Conduct high-precision isotopic studies of meteorites and their components

             to constrain the initial Solar System abundances and distributions of the

             main heat-producing short-lived radionuclides (26Al and 60Fe)

             Investigators:  Wadhwa (lead), Anbar, Desch

Task 2:  Model in detail the chemical and dynamical evolution of a massive star as it

             evolves on the main sequence and then explodes

             Investigators:  Young (lead), Timmes

Task 3:  Model the injection of supernova material into nearby star-forming molecular


             Investigators:  Desch (lead), Hester, Scannapieco, Young

Task 4:  Model the injection of supernova material into nearby protoplanetary disks

             within a massive-star-forming region

             Investigators:  Desch (lead), Hester

Task 5:  Model the variability of elemental ratios within solar systems within a large

             cluster as it evolves

             Investigators:  Scannapieco (lead), Hester, Timmes

Task 6:  Determine which elemental or isotopic ratios correlate with key elements

             Investigators:  Timmes (lead), Young

Task 7:  Construct an updated catalog of elemental ratios in nearby stars against

             which we can test our proxies

             Investigators:  Timmes (lead), Turnbull


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