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The locations of recent supernovae near the Sun from modelling 60Fe transport


The signature of 60Fe in deep-sea crusts indicates that one or more supernovae exploded in the solar neighbourhood about 2.2 million years ago1,2,3,4. Recent isotopic analysis is consistent with a core-collapse or electron-capture supernova that occurred 60 to 130 parsecs from the Sun5. Moreover, peculiarities in the cosmic ray spectrum point to a nearby supernova about two million years ago6. The Local Bubble of hot, diffuse plasma, in which the Solar System is embedded, originated from 14 to 20 supernovae within a moving group, whose surviving members are now in the Scorpius–Centaurus stellar association7,8. Here we report calculations of the most probable trajectories and masses of the supernova progenitors, and hence their explosion times and sites. The 60Fe signal arises from two supernovae at distances between 90 and 100 parsecs. The closest occurred 2.3 million years ago at present-day galactic coordinates l = 327°, b = 11°, and the second-closest exploded about 1.5 million years ago at l = 343°, b = 25°, with masses of 9.2 and 8.8 times the solar mass, respectively. The remaining supernovae, which formed the Local Bubble, contribute to a smaller extent because they happened at larger distances and longer ago (60Fe has a half-life of 2.6 million years9,10). There are uncertainties relating to the nucleosynthesis yields and the loss of 60Fe during transport, but they do not influence the relative distribution of 60Fe in the crust layers, and therefore our model reproduces the measured relative abundances very well.

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Figure 1: Probability clouds of the two most recent supernovae.
Figure 2: Analytical model of 60Fe-carrying shells at 1.4 Myr and 2.2 Myr before present.
Figure 3: Numerical simulations for 60Fe distribution associated with the Local and Loop I superbubbles.
Figure 4: Deposition of 60Fe on Earth.

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D.B., and M.M.S. acknowledge funding by the DFG priority program 1573 “Physics of the Interstellar Medium”. We thank U. Bolick for help during the preparation of the manuscript and R. Teyssier for discussions on details of the RAMSES code.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



D.B. worked out the model, and led the research and the paper writing. J.F. carried out analytic calculations, interpreted the crust data, calculated the IMF and produced Figs. 1 and 2 and the lower part of Fig. 4 and Extended Data Figs 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. M.M.S. performed extensive numerical simulations on the background interstellar medium, the evolution of the Local Bubble and Loop I bubbles and the 60Fe transport and produced Fig. 3 and the upper part of Fig. 4. was involved in the interpretation of the data and the numerical simulations. C.D. carried out the analysis of the moving group stars, calculated the trajectories of both Local Bubble and Loop I progenitor stars and wrote a program to determine the probability distributions. B.F. worked analytically on the epicyclic equations and carried out the cumulative distribution function calculations for the most probable trajectories.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to D. Breitschwerdt.

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Extended data figures and tables

Extended Data Figure 1 60Fe yields from various nucleosynthesis models 34,35,36,37.

Given that the yields are mass-dependent, an average between the highest37 and lowest36 was calculated and extrapolated towards the lower mass range. Superscripts in the legend refer to reference numbers.

Extended Data Figure 2 26Al yields from various nucleosynthesis models 34,35,36,37.

To be conservative, the highest yields36 were fitted and extrapolated towards the lower mass range.

Extended Data Figure 3 53Mn yields from various nucleosynthesis models 34,35,37.

Again, to be conservative, the highest yields35 were fitted and extrapolated towards the lower mass range.

Extended Data Figure 4 26Al in the ferromanganese crust.

The largest fraction arises from atmospheric production, hiding a possible supernova signal. The arrival times of the supernova shells (analytical model with input parameters identical to the 60Fe model) are indicated by a blue square (UCL) and a green dot (LB, Local Bubble shell), whereas the blue and green shaded histograms represent the amount of 26Al deposited onto the crust, normalized to 27Al. The resulting supernova signal (SN) is added to the atmospheric background (black dashed line). The measured 60Fe concentration2 in the layer showing the largest peak (red (blue) dashed lines) was used to scale towards the 26Al content using supernova 60Fe/26Al ratios55 of 0.6 (23). Here, the atmospheric background has been added to the signal.

Source data

Extended Data Figure 5 53Mn in the ferromanganese crust.

The largest fraction is produced from extraterrestrial dust and micrometeorite influx, hiding a possible supernova signal. Again, the analytical model with input parameters identical to the 60Fe model was used. The notation is the same as in Fig. 4.

Source data

Extended Data Table 1 Supernova explosions that created the Local Bubble

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Breitschwerdt, D., Feige, J., Schulreich, M. et al. The locations of recent supernovae near the Sun from modelling 60Fe transport. Nature 532, 73–76 (2016).

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