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The interstellar comet dust holds clues about the solar system

Comets such as Hale-Bopp, seen here, can cause the release of the substance in the Earth’s stratosphere, where we can gather and study.

(Philipp Salzgeber, CC-license (CC-BY-SA 2.0))

Scientists are following a trail of interstellar dust all the way back to the formation of the solar system.

What we now know as the solar system began as a cloud of interstellar dust and gas. By the study of “pre-solar” fabric, which has been preserved in the cosmic objects such as comets, before they make their way to Earth, scientists can peer back in time to the early solar system.

Each year, tons of cosmic dust falls from space on Earth. NASA makes use of aircraft with special sticky collectors coated with silicone oil to catch the dust at high altitude before it is too polluted our planet. A team of researchers, led by Hope Ishii, a material scientist at the University of Hawaii in Manoa, is the study of an unknown species of the interplanetary dust particles that fall to Earth from space. [Solar system Explained From the Inside Out (Infographic)]

These dust particles contain small particles of glass with embedded metal and sulfides, or GEMS, according to a statement. The work suggests that these pieces of fabric are a relic from the pre-solar days. Scientists are studying the STONES for years, but this team has found convincing evidence that these grains survived the original building phase of our solar system.

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With the help of transmission electron microscopy, a technique in which electrons are beamed by means of a model to create an image, the researchers have mapped out how the different elements are divided into GEMS. Through this process, they discovered that GEMSTONES are made of smaller “sub-grains” that are formed for their comet age; therefore, before our solar system was first developed. With these observations, the researchers think that the GEMS may “survive pre-solar interstellar dust that formed the very building blocks of the planets and the stars,” Ishii said in the statement.

GEMSTONES are usually smaller than 1/100th of the thickness of a human hair with a diameter of only a few tens to hundreds of nanometers, according to the statement. In addition, GEMSTONES are made of the “sub-grains,” which are surrounded by different types of carbon. The researchers found that these types of carbon decomposition with a relatively low heat, according to the statement. Because of this, the researchers believe that this substance and its parent comet, could not come from the hot, inner solar nebula.

Instead, they think the substance is more probably formed in a further, cold, radiation-rich location, such as an outer solar nebula, or even a pre-solar molecular cloud, according to the statement. Thus, despite their small size, it is a glassy substance bits that have survived some extreme interstellar conditions.

By the study of “the raw materials of the planet’s formation 4.6 billion years ago,” we can win “a deeper understanding of the processes that formed and since then have changed,” Ishii said in the statement.

After this research, the team will explore additional comet dust better insight in the composition of the PRECIOUS stones and the size of the sub-grains, according to the statement.

The research was detailed yesterday (11 June) in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Original article on Space.com.

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