Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


ESRF helps reveal the origin of the Solar System

Particles returned to Earth last January by the Stardust spacecraft from comet Wild 2 are yielding precious information about the origin of the solar system, thanks to the brilliant X-rays produced at several of the world's synchrotron facilities, including the ESRF.

Although the particles are tiny, the X-ray beams available at synchrotrons can be even smaller, enabling researchers to illuminate the cometary material and in some cases determine the distribution of elements within the particles without damaging them. These results describe the overall composition and chemistry of the samples returned by Stardust, and are published as part of a special series of papers in the 15 December 2006 edition of the journal Science.

Our Solar System is about 4.5 billion years old, and the details of its origin are still a mystery to researchers. Scientists theorize that large, interstellar dust clouds give rise to new stars and planetary systems. As these dust clouds collapse, a central star forms surrounded by a rotating disk of dense gas. The planets of our Solar System likely coalesced from one of these disks.

Wild 2 is believed to have originated within a cloud of comets just beyond the orbit of Neptune called the Kuiper Belt. Because Kuiper Belt objects spend most of their time far away from the Sun, researchers suspect they remain unchanged by radiation, heating and aqueous alteration and therefore likely carry intact material from the earliest ages of the solar system.

The cometary samples were collected from the comet Wild 2 by the Stardust spacecraft, which travelled 2.88 billion miles during its seven-year odyssey before returning to Earth. Stardust returned about one microgram of cometary dust, the largest of which are about 10 microns—about a tenth the diameter of a human hair.

The samples of the Stardust mission examined by the scientists were compared with the most primitive meteorites found on earth, which are believed to be samples left over from the formation of the solar system. The samples contain a wide variety of minerals and organic materials that look similar to those seen in primitive meteorites. But the Stardust samples also revealed the presence of new materials not previously found in meteorites. The chemical analysis of the Stardust samples could therefore improve our understanding of the chemistry of the early solar system.

The researchers also discovered that the samples contained minerals similar to compounds in meteorites known to form at high temperatures. These compounds, called Calcium Aluminum-rich Inclusions (CAIs), are believed to have been formed in the innermost part of the solar nebula, well inside the orbit of Mercury. This discovery challenges the belief that comets are formed only beyond the orbit of Jupiter, and suggests that these cometary materials must have somehow been transported to the edge of the solar system where Wild 2 formed. The results also suggest that the materials that formed our solar system underwent considerable mixing as the sun and planets formed.

A pinch of dust holds the answer

"We have taken a pinch of comet dust and are learning incredible things," said Stardust principal investigator Donald Brownlee, a professor at the University of Washington and lead author of an overview technical paper, one of seven reports in Science about the mission's initial findings.

During preliminary examination, over 200 samples from approximately 35 impact tracks were distributed to the 175 members of the Preliminary Examination Team around the world. The samples represent only a small fraction of the total collected material returned by the Stardust spacecraft. The rest will be preserved for study by future scientists as tools and techniques improve.

The diverse techniques needed to study the returned cometary material required the use of six synchrotron facilities around the world. Two European teams, one French from the Institut d’Astrophysique Spatiale in Orsay and The Ecole Normale Supérieur in Lyon, and the other from the Universities of Frankfurt (Germany), Antwerp and Ghent (Belgium), came to the ESRF to carry out experiments on a total of 7 samples. The minute size of the samples and their entrapment deep within slices of aerogel, called "keystones," made the brilliant X-ray radiation produced by synchrotron light sources ideal for peering into the particles. At the ESRF, they combined diffraction technique with high- and low-energy microspectroscopy to analyse the tracks in keystones. Due to the penetrating nature of the X-ray beams, the elemental distribution along the tracks could be mapped without removing the particles from the aerogel. Thus, crucial information was obtained which will be of use to subsequent researchers who wish to study the same particles.

Participating institutions included the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility in Grenoble, France; the Advanced Photon Source at Argonne National Laboratory, USA; the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Laboratory at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, USA; the Advanced Light Source in Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, USA; the National Synchrotron Light Source at Brookhaven National Laboratory, USA; and Spring-8, Japan Synchrotron Radiation Research Institute.

More information on the Stardust mission is available at

Montserrat Capellas | alfa
Further information:

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Move over, lasers: Scientists can now create holograms from neutrons, too
21.10.2016 | National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

nachricht Finding the lightest superdeformed triaxial atomic nucleus
20.10.2016 | The Henryk Niewodniczanski Institute of Nuclear Physics Polish Academy of Sciences

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Resolving the mystery of preeclampsia

21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine

Stanford researchers create new special-purpose computer that may someday save us billions

21.10.2016 | Information Technology

From ancient fossils to future cars

21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>