Document Type


Publication Title

The Astrophysical Journal







Publication Date



Radioactive nuclei play an important role in planetary evolution by providing an internal heat source, which affects planetary structure and helps facilitate plate tectonics. A minimum level of nuclear activity is thought to be necessary—but not sufficient—for planets to be habitable. Extending previous work that focused on short-lived nuclei, this paper considers the delivery of long-lived radioactive nuclei to circumstellar disks in star forming regions. Although the long-lived nuclear species are always present, their abundances can be enhanced through multiple mechanisms. Most stars form in embedded cluster environments, so that disks can be enriched directly by intercepting ejecta from supernovae within the birth clusters. In addition, molecular clouds often provide multiple episodes of star formation, so that nuclear abundances can accumulate within the cloud; subsequent generations of stars can thus receive elevated levels of radioactive nuclei through this distributed enrichment scenario. This paper calculates the distribution of additional enrichment for 40K, the most abundant of the long-lived radioactive nuclei. We find that distributed enrichment is more effective than direct enrichment. For the latter mechanism, ideal conditions lead to about 1 in 200 solar systems being directly enriched in 40K at the level inferred for the early solar nebula (thereby doubling the abundance). For distributed enrichment from adjacent clusters, about 1 in 80 solar systems are enriched at the same level. Distributed enrichment over the entire molecular cloud is more uncertain, but can be even more effective.