Abundance of 26Al and 60Fe in evolving giant molecular clouds

Astrophysical Journal Letters, 769, Art.no.L8

The nucleosynthesis and ejection of radioactive 26Al (t1/2 ∼ 0.72 Myr) and 60Fe, (t1/2 ∼ 2.5 Myr) into the interstellar medium is dominated by the stellar winds of massive stars and supernova type II explosions. Studies of meteorites and their components indicate that the initial abundances of these short-lived radionuclides in the solar protoplanetary disk were higher than the background levels of the galaxy inferred from γ-ray astronomy and models of the galactic chemical evolution. This observation has been used to argue for a late-stage addition of stellar debris to the solar system's parental molecular cloud or, alternatively, the solar protoplanetary disk, thereby requiring a special scenario for the formation of our solar system. Here, we use supercomputers to model - from first principles - the production, transport, and admixing of freshly synthesized 26Al and 60Fe in star-forming regions within giant molecular clouds. Under typical star formation conditions, the levels of 26Al in most star-forming regions are comparable to that deduced from meteorites, suggesting that the presence of short-lived radionuclides in the early solar system is a generic feature of the chemical evolution of giant molecular clouds. The 60Fe/26Al yield ratio of κ0.2 calculated from our simulations is consistent with the galactic value of 0.15 ± 0.06 inferred from γ-ray astronomy but is significantly higher than most current solar system measurements indicate. We suggest that estimates based on differentiated meteorites and some chondritic components may not be representative of the initial 60Fe abundance of the bulk solar system.