Nobody likes a neighborhood characterized by frequent moves, speeding neighbors, and enormous explosions. You wouldn’t know it by looking around today, but that description matches the environment where the solar system formed.
A recently published article in Science provides powerful evidence that the sun formed in a dense, swirling cluster of massive stars that both enriched the solar system with heavy elements and triggered its formation. Compared to stars of the same age, the solar system is particularly rich in elements that form only in the interiors of stars more than ten times the mass of the sun.
While a growing scientific consensus had called for one massive supernova explosion to enrich and trigger the formation of the solar system, this work paints an even more violent scenario for the sun’s birth. Analysis of the oldest known meteorites show a deficit of 60Fe, which means that at least one supernova explosion detonated after the initial stages of formation. This implies that the solar system formed in a dense cluster of such massive stars. While these stars are critical for adequately enriching the solar system with the necessary heavy elements, they are also capable of completely disrupting the processes responsible for forming the solar system. Additionally, the abundance of life-essential carbon and oxygen on Earth requires a completely different set of erratic, variable stars called AGB stars.
So the scenario starts with a dense cloud of massive, erratic stars enriching the local neighborhood with heavy elements like uranium and thorium (critical for plate tectonics). Then, some smaller erratic stars enrich this neighborhood with the lighter elements such as carbon and oxygen (critical for water and life’s complex chemistry). Later, multiple different types of stars and supernovae continue to produce the vast suite of elements Earth contains (life also makes use of most of the elements in the periodic table). The solar system forms in this violent environment where additional supernovae continue to detonate without disrupting the formation process. After the solar system forms, all the other stars around the sun disperse, leaving the solar system isolated from disruptive gravitational perturbations. This scenario certainly comports well with the idea of a Divine hand providentially preparing a suitable habitat for us to live.