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Laboratory evidence for co-condensed oxygen- and carbon-rich meteoritic stardust from nova outbursts


Although their parent stars no longer exist, the isotopic and chemical compositions and microstructure of individual stardust grains identified in meteorites provide unique constraints on dust formation and thermodynamic conditions in stellar outflows1,2,3,4,5. Novae are stellar explosions that take place in the hydrogen-rich envelope accreted onto the surface of a white dwarf in a close binary system6. The energy released by a suite of nuclear processes operating in the envelope powers a thermonuclear runaway, resulting in the ejection of processed material into the interstellar medium. Spectral fitting of features observed in the infrared spectra of dust-forming novae provided evidence of the co-condensation of both carbonaceous and silicate dust in stellar outflows within 50 to 100 days after explosion7,8,9. Although novae appear as prolific producers of both carbon- and oxygen-rich dust, very few presolar grains that can be attributed to novae have been found in meteorites thus far10,11,12,13,14,15,16. Here, we report the identification of an oxygen-rich inclusion, composed of both silicate and oxide nanoparticles, inside a graphite spherule that originated in the ejecta of a low-mass carbon- and oxygen-rich (CO) nova. This observation establishes laboratory evidence of the co-condensation of oxygen- and carbon-rich dust in nova outbursts and is consistent with large-scale transport and mixing of materials between chemically distinct clumps in the nova ejecta.

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The data that support the plots within this paper and other findings of this study are available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request.

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Journal peer review information: Nature Astronomy thanks Reto Trappitsch and the other anonymous reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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P.H. thanks the late Christine Floss for her mentorship and discussions about our discovery of a silicate-oxide inclusion inside LAP-149. This research was supported by the NASA NExSS ‘Earths in Other Solar Systems’ (EOS) programme (NNX15AD94G), NASA grants NNX15ALJ22G (T.J.Z.), NNX16AD31G (S.A.) and NNX14AG25G (C. Floss) from the Emerging Worlds Program, NSF grant AST-1517541 (K.L.), the Spanish MINECO grant AYA2017–86274–P, the EU FEDER funds and the AGAUR/Generalitat de Catalunya grant SGR-661/2017 (J.J.). This article also benefited from discussions within the ‘ChETEC’ COST Action (CA16117). STEM/TEM and FIB analyses were carried out at the University of Arizona Kuiper Materials Imaging and Characterization Facility (NSF grant 1531243 and NASA grants NNX15AJ22G and NNX12AL47G). The NanoSIMS measurements were also supported by the McDonnell Center for Space Sciences at Washington University in Saint Louis. We are also grateful to P. Wallace for his help with the preparation of the electron-transparent section, and to J. Lewis and T. Smolar for their support with the NanoSIMS 50 work.

Author information

P.H. prepared the FIB sample cross-section, carried out the TEM and NanoSIMS measurements and wrote the manuscript. J.Y.H., K.K., T.S., A.M. and T.J.Z. helped with the TEM analyses. T.J.Z., S.A., K.L. and J.J. contributed to the data interpretation. All authors contributed to the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Correspondence to Pierre Haenecour.

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Fig. 1: STEM data of LAP-149.
Fig. 2: Energy-loss near-edge structure of presolar graphite grains.
Fig. 3: STEM imaging and EDS data of the inclusion inside LAP-149.
Fig. 4: TEM imaging and electron-nanodiffraction data of the inclusion inside LAP-149.