Tiny Find: Stardust From Beyond Solar System?

Citizen scientists help discover what could be interstellar space dust

By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff

Posted Aug 15, 2014 8:52 AM CDT

(Newser) – Earth may be host to some far-from-home specks. A NASA spacecraft that sent space samples back to our planet in 2006 captured an astounding find that's just coming to light: seven specks of stardust believed to be the first from outside our solar system. Finding the teeny fragments, captured in the spacecraft's trays of aerogel, however, was no easy task. Some 30,700 citizen scientists, or "dusters," have been combing over digitized images of the trays in the hopes of finding "tracks" left behind from dust motes. A Canadian man who discovered a track—which looked "like a carrot growing in the ground," he tells the CBC—guesses he spent a thousand hours on the project. Finally, his work has paid off.

He helped discover Orion, one of two stardust motes revealed by the citizen scientists. (The others were found by actual researchers.) Orion, and the other mote, Hylabrook, are both pretty large, New Scientist points out. However, even large specks of stardust are pretty tiny: about one-16,000th of an inch, Reuters reports. The CBC adds they look like "tiny fluffy clumps," with "geometric crystals on the inside and a shapeless, glassy material on the outside that was likely generated by heating and melting followed by sudden cooling." Scientists say the stardust may have come from exploding stars but first they must confirm it did in fact come from beyond our solar system. That may mean waiting for more advanced technology so as to not risk destroying the tiny specks, a researcher explains.

The Hubble Space Telescope captured this image of deep space in 2011.
The Hubble Space Telescope captured this image of deep space in 2011.   (AP Photo/NASA)
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