In 1999, NASA launched the Stardust spacecraft to collect, well, stardust. Specifically dust from the wake of Comet-Wild-2. Five years later, the spacecraft caught up with the comet and began collecting samples on one side of the spacecrafts collector tray. But what may prove more interesting is what the other side of the collector tray which was pointed away from the comet might have found in the tiles of its ultra-light silica aerogel. In 2006, after the collection work was finished the spacecraft jettisoned its sample container for a return to Earth with the assistance of a parachute for a safe landing.

Interstellar Space

Interstellar Space – What a find

Years after the study of the Stardusts collection evidence, scientists are now saying that seven of the dust motes that were captured may have come from outside of our solar system on would represent the first interstellar dust to return to our planet possibly owing to the explosion of a supernova million and millions of year ago.

“They are very precious particles,” said Andrew Westphal, a physicist at UC Berkeley’s Space Sciences Laboratory and the lead author (there are an additional 65 co-authors) of a report on the particles that will appear in tomorrow’s issue of the journal Science. The team also authored an additional twelve papers that are presently online but will next week be published in the journal Meteoritics & Planetary Science.

What struck Westphal was the diversity that these seven particles displayed with the larger particles displaying snowflake like characteristics. I’m simply paraphrasing because his real surprise was not understand in its entirety by this layman writer.

Interstellar Space – Snowflakes and Haystacks

“The fact that the two largest fluffy particles have crystalline material – a magnesium-iron-silicate mineral called olivine – may imply that these are particles that came from the disks around other stars and were modified in the interstellar medium,” he added. “We seem to be getting our first glimpse of the surprising diversity of interstellar dust particles, which is impossible to explore through astronomical observations alone.”

In other words, the Stardust Spacecraft may have found seven needles in a ridiculously large haystack.

“They were splatted a bit, but the majority of the particles were still there at the bottom of the crater,” said Rhonda Stroud of the Naval Research Laboratory who led the international team involved in the study. “Their diversity was a surprise, but also these fluffy particles, sort of like a tossed salad, were complex, an agglomeration of other particles, rather than one dense particle suggested by the simplest models of interstellar particles.”

Westphal stressed that additional testing is required before the team can definitely state that these are interstellar particles that could explain the origins of the solar system and beyond.

via: Yahoo News