Our Earth’s Atmosphere Contains Interstellar Dust Which is Older than Our Solar System

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The Earth’s upper atmosphere contains particles that were deposited by comets. Scientists say that these particles (also known as dust) are older than our solar system and they could tell us how planets and stars formed.

The research was recently published in PNAS, and shows that by looking into the composition of these cosmic particles, scientists found out that the dust traveled long distances and lived through more than 4.6 billion years.

The ‘building blocks of planets and stars’

Hope Ishii, from the University of Hawaii at Manoa led an international team of scientists and studied the components of the dust in the atmosphere of our planet. They found inside it the origins of the Universe:

“Our observations suggest that these exotic grains represent surviving pre-solar interstellar dust that formed the very building blocks of planets and stars. If we have at our fingertips the starting materials of planet formation from 4.6 billion years ago, that is thrilling and makes possible a deeper understanding of the processes that formed and have since altered them.”

Usually, scientists need to use computers to simulate hypothesis on how our solar system formed, but now, they have a chance to actually study the material that led to its formation!

NASA collected samples of particles in the Earth’s atmosphere with a stratospheric aircraft. Scientists analyzed them using infrared light and electron microscopes. They looked at particles that are called GEMS – meaning ‘glass with embedded metal and sulfides,’ which are over a hundred thinner than a human hair (a hundred nanometers).

Researchers found that these GEMS fused together in a cold environment which was rich with radiation and that the bond would easily break with a small amount of heat. That meant that GEMS formed in the outer solar nebula, in a cloud of dust, hydrogen, helium, and ionized gases that together formed the solar system.

“The presence of specific types of organic carbon in both the inner and outer regions of the particles suggests the formation process occurred entirely at low temperatures. Therefore, these interplanetary dust particles survived from the time before formation of the planetary bodies in the Solar System, and provide insight into the chemistry of those ancient building blocks,” concluded Jim Ciston (Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory), who is one of the researchers in the study.

Next, they will further analyze these particles, all in need “to satisfy the human urge to understand our world’s origins,” added Ishii.

Rex Austin

Rex Austinwas born and raised in Thunder Bay Ontario on the shores of Lake Superior. Apart from running his own podcast (Ice Fishing And Other “Cool” Things), he spends his time canoeing and backpacking in Northern Ontario.. As a journalist Rex has published stories for Global News (Thunder Bay) we well as Buzz Feed and Joystiq. As a contributor to Great Lakes Ledger, Rex most covers science and health stories. Contact Rexhere