NASA’s Cassini Spacecraft Identifies Unique Interstellar Dust From Beyond The Solar System

Posted: Apr 16 2016, 2:48am CDT | by , Updated: Apr 16 2016, 11:13pm CDT, in News | Latest Science News


NASA’s Cassini Spacecraft Identifies Unique Interstellar Dust from Beyond the Solar System
Credit: NASA/JPL

This is the first time when Saturn's spacecraft has found interstellar dust made of rock-forming materials instead of ice.

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has detected traces of unique interstellar dust coming from outside our solar system. 

The sample of dust had been scooped up from an area in space closer to Saturn’s moon Enceladus and analyzed through a dust detector onboard Cassini spacecraft called cosmic data analyzer (CDA). 

The sample consists of 36 tiny particles of interstellar dust that were travelling through at over 45,000 miles per hour. The speed is fast enough to escape Saturn’s gravitational pull or even Sun’s gravity. When researchers, analyzed the composition of those dust particles, they found that they all had surprisingly similar chemical makeup and are made of a very specific mix of minerals, not ice. Tiny dust particles contain heavy materials like calcium, magnesium, silicon and iron as well as gas and helium. These particles are the building blocks for Earth and other planets that are similar to Earth.

“Cosmic dust is produced when stars die, but with the vast range of types of stars in the Universe we naturally expected to encounter a huge range of dust types over the long period of our study.” Co-author Frank Postberg, one of the investigators of Cassini’s dust analyzer from University of Heidelberg said.

“Surprisingly, the grains we’ve detected aren’t old, pristine and compositionally diverse like the stardust grains we find in ancient meteorites. They have apparently been made rather uniform through some repetitive processing in the interstellar medium.”

Cassini has been orbiting around Saturn since 2004 and has been sending back remarkable details about giant plant, its rings and its various moons. It has sampled millions of ice-rich dust grains before with its dust analyzer but it’s the first time when it showed rock-forming elements in the analysis rather than ice.

When it comes to studying interstellar dust, the first thing is it is very hard to find since individual particle is just 200 nanometers in size. Thanks to cutting edge technology of CDA, researchers are not only able to find those tiny particles but analyze them on the spot as well. This has ensured much more precise results than ever before. 

“We’re thrilled Cassini could make this detection, given that our instrument was designed primarily to measure dust from within the Saturn system, as well as all the other demands on the spacecraft.” Co researcher Marcia Burton said.

Researchers speculate that the dust might be created when a star-forming region destroyed and continued to become more dense as shock waves from dying star passed it through over and over again and resulted into grains floating in our solar system. 

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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.




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