PerspectivePlanetary Science

Cometary Dust in the Laboratory

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Science  07 May 2010:
Vol. 328, Issue 5979, pp. 698-699
DOI: 10.1126/science.1187725

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Much of our understanding of early solar system history comes from the laboratory study of extraterrestrial materials, especially meteorites from the asteroid belt, as these are by far the most readily available. However, it has long been recognized that icy bodies in the outer solar system might contain a better-preserved record of the earliest stages of solar system formation than can be found in even the most primitive asteroidal meteorites. This is supported by laboratory studies of tiny (<50 µm diameter) meteorites—interplanetary dust particles or IDPs—collected by aircraft in the stratosphere. Thought to originate at least in part from comets, IDPs exhibit highly primitive features (1, 2). Two reports, one by Matzel et al. (3) and one by Duprat et al. (4) on page 742 of this issue, take advantage of the availability of relatively less studied primitive materials—samples obtained by the Stardust mission from comet Wild 2 and Antarctic micrometeorites (AMMs)—to glean information about the early solar system.