Research Article

Evidence for interstellar origin of seven dust particles collected by the Stardust spacecraft

Science  15 Aug 2014:
Vol. 345, Issue 6198, pp. 786-791
DOI: 10.1126/science.1252496

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Can you spot a speck of space dust?

NASA's Stardust spacecraft has been collecting cosmic dust: Aerogel tiles and aluminum foil sat for nearly 200 days in the interstellar dust stream before returning to Earth. Citizen scientists identified most of the 71 tracks where particles were caught in the aerogel, and scanning electron microscopy revealed 25 craterlike features where particles punched through the foil. By performing trajectory and composition analysis, Westphal et al. report that seven of the particles may have an interstellar origin. These dust particles have surprisingly diverse mineral content and structure as compared with models of interstellar dust based on previous astronomical observations.

Science, this issue p. 786

Abstract

Seven particles captured by the Stardust Interstellar Dust Collector and returned to Earth for laboratory analysis have features consistent with an origin in the contemporary interstellar dust stream. More than 50 spacecraft debris particles were also identified. The interstellar dust candidates are readily distinguished from debris impacts on the basis of elemental composition and/or impact trajectory. The seven candidate interstellar particles are diverse in elemental composition, crystal structure, and size. The presence of crystalline grains and multiple iron-bearing phases, including sulfide, in some particles indicates that individual interstellar particles diverge from any one representative model of interstellar dust inferred from astronomical observations and theory.

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