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Helium and Neon Abundances and Compositions in Cometary Matter

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Science  04 Jan 2008:
Vol. 319, Issue 5859, pp. 75-78
DOI: 10.1126/science.1148001

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Abstract

Materials trapped and preserved in comets date from the earliest history of the solar system. Particles captured by the Stardust spacecraft from comet 81P/Wild 2 are indisputable cometary matter available for laboratory study. Here we report measurements of noble gases in Stardust material. Neon isotope ratios are within the range observed in “phase Q,” a ubiquitous, primitive organic carrier of noble gases in meteorites. Helium displays 3He/4He ratios twice those in phase Q and in Jupiter's atmosphere. Abundances per gram are surprisingly large, suggesting implantation by ion irradiation. The gases are probably carried in high-temperature igneous grains similar to particles found in other Stardust studies. Collectively, the evidence points to gas acquisition in a hot, high ion-flux nebular environment close to the young Sun.

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