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Origin of meteoritic stardust unveiled by a revised proton-capture rate of 17O


Stardust grains recovered from meteorites provide high-precision snapshots of the isotopic composition of the stellar environment in which they formed1. Attributing their origin to specific types of stars, however, often proves difficult. Intermediate-mass stars of 4–8 solar masses are expected to have contributed a large fraction of meteoritic stardust2,3. Yet, no grains have been found with the characteristic isotopic compositions expected for such stars4,5. This is a long-standing puzzle, which points to serious gaps in our understanding of the lifecycle of stars and dust in our Galaxy. Here we show that the increased proton-capture rate of 17O reported by a recent underground experiment6 leads to 17O/16O isotopic ratios that match those observed in a population of stardust grainsfor proton-burning temperatures of 60–80 MK. These temperatures are achieved at the base of the convective envelope during the late evolution of intermediate-mass stars of 4–8 solar masses79, which reveals them as the most likely site of origin of the grains. This result provides direct evidence that these stars contributed to the dust inventory from which the Solar System formed.

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Figure 1: Schematic of the internal structure of AGB stars at the interface between the H-burning region and the convective envelope.
Figure 2: Equilibrium 17O/16O ratio defined as the ratio of the production to destruction rates of 17O in the temperature range of interest for AGB stars.
Figure 3: Evolution of the oxygen isotopic ratios at the surface of AGB models of different masses.
Figure 4: Evolution of selected Mg versus O and Al versus O isotopic ratios at the surface of AGB models of different masses.


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We thank O. Pols and R. Izzard for useful insights on binary systems and P. Marigo for discussion of our results. M.L. is a Momentum (‘Lendìlet-2014’ Programme) project leader of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. M.L. and A.I.K. are grateful for the support of the National Computational Infrastructure National Facility at the Australian National University.

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Authors and Affiliations



M.L. designed and carried out the research, ran the nucleosynthesis models, prepared the figures, and wrote the paper. A.I.K. ran the stellar structure models, discussed the results and wrote the paper. C.G.B. played a key role in the set up and running of the underground experiment relating to the 17O(p, α)14N reaction and analysed the data to derive the new rate. M.A. contributed to running the experiment and wrote the paper. L.R.N. contributed to the collection of the stardust grain data, discussed the results, prepared the figures, and wrote the paper. The other authors are co-investigators who set up and ran the underground experiment that lasted about three years, from 2012 to 2015, and made the measurements possible. O.S. also discussed the results.

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Correspondence to M. Lugaro.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Lugaro, M., Karakas, A., Bruno, C. et al. Origin of meteoritic stardust unveiled by a revised proton-capture rate of 17O. Nat Astron 1, 0027 (2017).

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