Thursday, August 14, 2014

Astrophysics FOTD: Interstellar

NASA thinks that they have identified some some grains of interstellar dust collected by some cosmic flypaper they flew.

Astronomers have likely located the first ever grains of interstellar dust they can get their hands on with the help of thousands of citizen volunteers in the Stardust@Home project.

Just seven tiny particles of stardust have been located in the aerogel and aluminium foil collectors of NASA’s Stardust spacecraft, which were dropped off on Earth in 2006 after seven years in space.

Stardust’s primary mission was to snag samples of comets and bring them back home, but the craft also had separate interstellar dust collectors, which were dropped by parachute along with the comet versions. A group of scientists and volunteers have spent the last eight years combing through the tennis-racket-sized mosaics of 132 aerogel tiles in search of the exceedingly rare, microscopic motes from outside our Solar System...

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While the scientists are happy to say that the motes are likely to be interstellar dust particles, they’re not fully confident yet.

“The composition and trajectory modelling tell us that it is most likely that the grains are interstellar,” Stroud said.

Isotopic analysis could discriminate whether the grains originated in the proto-solar nebula or elsewhere, I expect.