With all the various missions we’ve sent off world, from the moon to Mars, we’ve only been scratching the surface of what’s out there — but now, scientists think they’ve finally scratched a little deeper.
A total of seven microscopic motes of dust may be the first material ever collected from outside our solar system, and researchers hope the tiny particles will hold some answers about the origins of interstellar dust and what, exactly, resides outside the scope of our little corner of the Milky Way. When we say small, we mean small — the largest are just 2 microns (0.002mm) wide, which is comparable to 2 percent of the diameter of a human hair. Whoa.
Though seven itty-bitty specs of dust might not seem newsworthy at first glance, Popular Mechanics reports it has taken a a team of 30,000 "citizen scientists" and NASA researchers eight years to finally obtain. it all started in 2002 when NASA's Stardust project snagged the fragments from a stream of interstellar dust.
Planetary scientist Anna Butterworth said she believes the dust could’ve originated in a star, which would give the team a chance to actually study some fragments from that unknown area of the cosmos:
“The particles captured are a sample of the contemporary galaxy as it constantly evolves through star formation, death, and the redistribution of material as dust. We think they were formed in the region of a star, because we found the minerals olivine and spinel, which are formed in hot environments.”
Though the find sounds promising, there is a contingent of scientists who believe the samples might not actually represent interstellar dust. Some astronomers have noted three of the particles contain sulfur compounds, something that isn’t believed to be found in interstellar dust. So, its possible the particles could be a mishmash from different origins.
(Via Popular Mechanics)