NASA scientists who have been studying the agency’s Stardust spacecraft since it returned to Earth in 2006 may have made a major discovery. According to Space Daily, they’ve identified seven microscopic dust particles that they believe are from the very beginnings of the solar system. If they are correct, then these particles would be the very first sample of interstellar dust.

Nasa Stardust

Scientists study Stardust spacecraft

Since the Stardust spacecraft came back in 2006, scientists have been studying the particles that came back with it. The spacecraft carried aluminum and aerogel dust collectors for the purpose of bringing them back to earth. The scientists who found the seven particles believe they may have come from a supernova explosion and then been altered by being exposed to outer space.

Details on the discovery were published in the journal Science. Next week there will be 12 more papers about the dust particles published in another journal, Meteoritics and Planetary Science.

Details on the Stardust project

NASA launched the Stardust spacecraft 1999, and it came back to Earth on Jan. 15, 2006. The spacecraft was carrying a canister in which there was a collector tray that’s similar to a tennis racket. The tray captured particles in silica aerogel when Stardust passed within 149 miles of a comet in January 204. On the other side of the tray, there are interstellar dust particles collected on its 3 billion mile journey.

Scientists say they have to run more tests on the particles before they can definitely say that they are from outside the solar system. But if they’re right, then those microscopic pieces of dust could tell us a lot. For example, the dust particles are far more diverse in structure and chemical composition than the scientists thought they would be. The particles that are smaller are very different from those that are bigger, and scientists think they have different histories. They say several of the bigger particles have a structure that’s not unlike that of a snowflake.