May 8, 2006 | David F. Coppedge

The Porridge Before the Soup: Too Hot?

In the evolutionary theory of everything, there is a soup before the primordial soup we normally think of.  It’s the solar nebula, the whirling disk of dust, gas and ice that preceded the planets.  Scientists used to think the nebula was differentiated like chemicals in a giant centrifuge, with the rocks close to the sun and the ices out near the perimeter.  The situation was apparently not so simple; now, it appears someone stirred the porridge.  Cometary material and interplanetary dust particles (IDPs) once thought pristine show signs of mixing and heating.
    This revision is discussed by Bernard Marty (geochemist, France) in Science.1  He discusses how fractionation ratios of oxygen and nitrogen “vary dramatically across the solar system.”  The models are having to adjust to the new findings.  No longer a slowly cooling and condensing nebula, the picture needs a solar flare here or there, UV photons of the right energies to dissociate some isotopes but not others, etc.: “On a larger scale, such isotope variations among different solar system objects do not define a single relationship, suggesting that different paths or processes may have occurred.”  Some oxygen isotopic enrichments are 300% and even 6000% above normal.  “We still don’t know much about the infancy of our solar system,” Marty said, pointing to the future: “and there is little doubt that tremendous advances in our understanding of this period will arise from the combination of high-precision microanalysis of extraterrestrial matter and of missions returning samples to Earth.”


1Bernard Marty, “Planetary Science: The Primordial Porridge,” Science, 5 May 2006: Vol. 312. no. 5774, pp. 706-707, DOI: 10.1126/science.1125967.

OK, so now will they go back and revise all the textbook illustrations, slide sets, posters, planetarium shows, and TV programs to reflect the fact that all the models were wrong, and we really don’t know what happened in some past eons?  No way; it would stir the pot and put the heat on too much for public consumption.

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