Nav: Home

Experiments trace interstellar dust back to solar system's formation

June 11, 2018

A team of scientists led by University of Hawai'i at Manoa (UH Mānoa) School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology (SOEST) researcher Hope Ishii, discovered that certain interplanetary dust particles (IDPs) contain dust leftover from the initial formation of the solar system.

The initial solids from which the solar system formed consisted almost entirely of amorphous silicate, carbon and ices. This dust was mostly destroyed and reworked by processes that led to the formation of planets. Surviving samples of pre-solar dust are most likely to be preserved in comets--small, cold bodies that formed in the outer solar nebula.

In a relatively obscure class of IDPs believed to originate from comets, there are tiny glassy grains called GEMS, or glass embedded with metal and sulfides--typically only tens to hundreds of nanometers in diameter, less than 1/100th the thickness of human hair.

Using transmission electron microscopy, Ishii and colleagues made maps of the element distributions and discovered that these glassy grains are made up of subgrains that aggregated together in a different environment and prior to the formation of the comet parent body. This aggregate is encapsulated by carbon of a different type than the carbon that forms a matrix gluing together GEMS and other components of cometary dust.

The types of carbon that rims the subgrains and that forms the matrix in these particles decomposes with even weak heating, suggesting that the GEMS could not have formed in the hot inner solar nebula, and instead formed in a cold, radiation-rich environment, such as the outer solar nebula or pre-solar molecular cloud.

"Our observations suggest that these exotic grains represent surviving pre-solar interstellar dust that formed the very building blocks of planets and stars," said Ishii, who is based at the UH Manoa Hawai'i Institute of Geophysics and Planetology. "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."

The University of Hawai'i has a strong footprint in space science and state-of-the-art instrumentation and is recognized as world-class in this field.

"This is an example of research that seeks to satisfy the human urge to understand our world's origins and serves the people of Hawai'i by boosting our reputation for excellence in space science and as a training ground for our students to be engaged in exciting science," said Ishii. In the future, the team plans to search the interiors of additional comet dust particles, especially those that were well-protected during their passage through the Earth's atmosphere, to increase understanding of the distribution of carbon within GEMS and the size distributions of GEMS subgrains.
This work was funded by NASA's Cosmochemistry, Emerging Worlds and Laboratory Analysis of Returned Samples Programs and was enabled, in part, by the Advanced Electron Microscopy Center at the University of Hawai'i. Portions of the work were also performed at national user facilities at the Molecular Foundry and the Advanced Light Source at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, which are supported by the Office of Science, Basic Energy Sciences, U.S. Department of Energy.

University of Hawaii at Manoa

Related Solar System Articles:

From rocks in Colorado, evidence of a 'chaotic solar system'
Plumbing a 90 million-year-old layer cake of sedimentary rock in Colorado, a team of scientists from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Northwestern University has found evidence confirming a critical theory of how the planets in our solar system behave in their orbits around the sun.
Why are there different 'flavors' of iron around the Solar System?
New work from Carnegie's Stephen Elardo and Anat Shahar shows that interactions between iron and nickel under the extreme pressures and temperatures similar to a planetary interior can help scientists understand the period in our Solar System's youth when planets were forming and their cores were created.
Does our solar system have an undiscovered planet? You can help astronomers find out
ASU's Adam Schneider and colleagues are hunting for runaway worlds in the space between stars, and citizen scientists can join the search with a new NASA-funded website.
Rare meteorites challenge our understanding of the solar system
Researchers have discovered minerals from 43 meteorites that landed on Earth 470 million years ago.
New evidence on the formation of the solar system
International research involving a Monash University scientist is using new computer models and evidence from meteorites to show that a low-mass supernova triggered the formation of our solar system.
Planet Nine could spell doom for solar system
The solar system could be thrown into disaster when the sun dies if the mysterious 'Planet Nine' exists, according to research from the University of Warwick.
Theft behind Planet 9 in our solar system
Through a computer-simulated study, astronomers at Lund University in Sweden show that it is highly likely that the so-called Planet 9 is an exoplanet.
Studying the solar system with NASA's Webb Telescope
NASA's James Webb Space Telescope will look across vast distances to find the earliest stars and galaxies and study the atmospheres of mysterious worlds orbiting other stars.
'This solar system isn't big enough for the both of us.' -- Jupiter
It's like something out of an interplanetary chess game. Astrophysicists at the University of Toronto have found that a close encounter with Jupiter about four billion years ago may have resulted in another planet's ejection from the Solar System altogether.
IBEX sheds new light on solar system boundary
In 14 papers published in the October 2015 Astrophysical Journal Supplement, scientists present findings from NASA's Interstellar Boundary Explorer, or IBEX, mission providing the most definitive analyses, theories and results about local interstellar space to date.

Related Solar System Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Jumpstarting Creativity
Our greatest breakthroughs and triumphs have one thing in common: creativity. But how do you ignite it? And how do you rekindle it? This hour, TED speakers explore ideas on jumpstarting creativity. Guests include economist Tim Harford, producer Helen Marriage, artificial intelligence researcher Steve Engels, and behavioral scientist Marily Oppezzo.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#524 The Human Network
What does a network of humans look like and how does it work? How does information spread? How do decisions and opinions spread? What gets distorted as it moves through the network and why? This week we dig into the ins and outs of human networks with Matthew Jackson, Professor of Economics at Stanford University and author of the book "The Human Network: How Your Social Position Determines Your Power, Beliefs, and Behaviours".