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A new population of dust from stellar explosions among meteoritic stardust


Primitive Solar System materials host small amounts of refractory dust grains predating the formation of the Sun and its planetary system. These ‘presolar’ grains condensed in the ejecta of evolved stars, novae and supernovae1. Their highly anomalous isotopic compositions cannot be explained by chemical or physical processes within the Solar System; instead, they represent the nucleosynthetic signatures of their stellar parents. Among this ‘true stardust’, silicates are the most abundant type of dust available for single-grain analyses2, with typical sizes of approximately 150 nm (ref. 3). Unlike presolar silicon carbides, aluminium oxides or graphites, which can be separated chemically from meteorites, presolar silicates have to be identified in situ, as they would be destroyed by extraction agents. Instrumental restrictions have constrained almost all previous magnesium isotopic measurements to presolar aluminium oxides, and the contribution of radiogenic 26Mg from 26Al decay has precluded unambiguous conclusions about their initial magnesium isotopes. Recent technical advances have enabled the undisturbed in situ investigation of magnesium isotopes in presolar silicates with unprecedented spatial resolution (<150 nm). Here we show that a minor but important fraction of silicate stardust believed to come from red giant stars has a supernova origin instead, if hydrogen ingestion occurred during the pre-supernova phase, making the supernova dust fraction among >200-nm-sized presolar silicates significantly higher than previously inferred1.

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Fig. 1: Oxygen three-isotope plot showing the presolar silicate grains from this study.
Fig. 2: Mg isotopic compositions of group 1 presolar silicates and oxides.
Fig. 3: Oxygen three-isotope plot showing the presolar silicates from this study.
Fig. 4: Silicon three-isotope plot for the 25Mg-rich presolar silicates.

Data availability

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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We thank E. Gröner, P. Schuhmann and A. Sorowka for technical support, the Natural History Museum in Vienna for the loan of the Acfer 094 sample, and NASA JSC for the loan of the EET 92161 sample. US Antarctic meteorite samples were recovered by the Antarctic Search for Meteorites (ANSMET) programme funded by the National Science Foundation and NASA, and characterized and curated by the Department of Mineral Sciences of the Smithsonian Institution and Astromaterials Curation Office at NASA Johnson Space Center. This work was supported by the Max Planck Society and the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (J.L., grant LE3279/1-1) and has made use of NASA’s Astrophysics Data System.

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J.L. conducted the majority of the NanoSIMS work with minor contributions from P.H. J.L. wrote most of the paper with important input from P.H.

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Correspondence to Jan Leitner.

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

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Supplementary Figure 1-10, Supplementary Table 1-2, Supplementary references 1-20.

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Leitner, J., Hoppe, P. A new population of dust from stellar explosions among meteoritic stardust. Nat Astron 3, 725–729 (2019).

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