Imagine you're a young sun, all alone in space, with a blazing bright future and plasma to burn.
About 4.6 billion years ago, that was our favorite star: hellbent on misspending its youth, blasting heavy metal into the universe and prone to very violent eruptions.
Maybe, at some point over the next few billion years, the sun realized it's actually better to fade away than burn out. In any case, aside from an occasional and always spectacular flare-up, it certainly wasn't the mellow yellow star that we know today.
The thing is, with the planets not having formed yet, the sun probably thought it was raging like no one was watching.
And yet, someone was actually watching, and recording it all.
In fact, researchers at the University of Chicago's Field Museum claim to have found a complete record of the sun's hyperactive antics. It's stored, in embarrassing detail, in blue crystals found in a meteorite that fell to Earth — a stone that predates the planets, and was an eyewitness to some moments the sun would rather just forget.
It's like finding an old yearbook
The analysis of these crystals, published this week in the journal Nature Astronomy, represents the first direct proof of the sun's combustible youth.
"This is essentially a real record of the early active sun," study co-author Philipp Heck told The New York Times.
The researchers analyzed the Murchison meteorite, which pelted Australia back in 1969. Encased within, they found a trove of hibonites — dust-sized blue crystals that were among the earliest minerals in our neck of the universe.
"Since its fall it has been a treasure trove for science because it contains so much unaltered material from the very early solar system, like these hibonites," Heck added.
The research suggests these very ancient hibonites knew our star when it was just learning to twinkle — at less than a million years old.
Scientists used a laser to burnish the crystals and, in doing so, freed the neon and helium that had been encased there for billions of years. An analysis of those elements yielded the oldest secret hard drive in the solar system: a record of the sun's days as a rock star.
Billions of years ago, researchers deduced, those hibonites — twirling in the cloudy, dusty space near the sun — were bombarded by powerful bursts of high-energy particles. And when that energy hit the crystals, very specific chemical elements were minted.
Those isotopes could essentially be read as an early history of our sun.
It's a good thing for us, and maybe the rest of the solar system, that the sun has mellowed in middle age. Stars, like our own, typically stop growing once their cores reach a certain temperature, a process that takes around 50 million years.
"This is the phase the sun is currently in," Heck told LiveScience.
In any case, we can certainly forgive the sun for its boisterous youth. Sometimes, when you're the only star in the room, you have to dance like no one's watching.