For the first time, scientists have identified and analyzed single grains of silicate stardust in the laboratory. This breakthrough, to be reported in the Feb. 27 issue of Science Express, provides a new way to study the history of the universe.
"Astronomers have been studying stardust through telescopes for decades," said first author Scott Messenger, Ph.D., senior research scientist in the Laboratory for Space Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis. "And they have derived models of what it must be like, based on wiggles in their spectral recordings. But they never dreamed it would be possible to look this closely at a grain of stardust that has been floating around in the galaxy."
Most stardust is made of tiny silicate grains, much like dust from rocks on earth. Away from city lights, you can see the dust as a dark band across the Milky Way. This dust comes from dying and exploded stars. Scientists think stars form when these dust clouds collapse and that some of this dust became trapped inside asteroids and comets when our own sun formed.
The researchers found the stardust in tiny fragments of asteroids and comets--interplanetary dust particles (IDPs) --collected 20 km above the earth by NASA planes. A typical IDP is a mishmash of more than 100,000 grains gleaned from different parts of space. Until recently, ion probes had to analyze dozens of grains at one time and so were able to deduce only the average properties of a sample.
Tony Fitzpatrick | EurekAlert!
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