Scientists Find Dust Particles Likely From Outside Solar System

Thursday, 14 Aug 2014 10:16 PM

By Greg Richter

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Seven microscopic dust particles collected by the NASA spacecraft Stardust are believed to come from interstellar space, say scientists studying the particles.

"They are very precious particles," said team leader Andrew Westphal, a University of California, Berkeley, physicist, CBS News reports. 

Stardust was launched in 1999 to collect debris from Comet Wild-2 for about 200 days. The capsule was returned to earth in 2006, and dozens of scientists across the world, assisted by 30,000 amateurs, have scanned more than 1 million images since then looking for signs of dust particles from outside the solar system.

The group's findings were published Thursday in the journal Science, which stated than most of the specks were found by the "citizen scientists."

Westphal said some of the dust particles were fluffly like snowflakes, and some splattered when they hit the collector in the wrong place.

Further testing will be conducted to make sure the specks are actually from outide the solar system. The dust is believed to be less than 50 million to 100 years old, which is considered relatively young.

There are still more images to be reviewed, so more dust might be found. Even so, Westphal expects there to be no more than about a dozen in all.

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