Scientists have found an “alien” grain of dust that survived the birth of our solar system.
It’s believed the tiny speck of material, found inside a meteorite in Antarctica, was created by a distant star as it was obliterated in a huge explosion.
The star died long before our sun even existed and experts reckon the newly found fragment could shed light on how the solar system was born.
That’s because little grains of stardust are thought to be key building materials in the birth of new stars and planets — as well as life as we know it. The research was published in Nature Astronomy.
“As actual dust from stars, such presolar grains give us insight into the building blocks from which our solar system formed,” said Dr. Pierre Haenecour, lead author of the study.
“They also provide us with a direct snapshot of the conditions in a star at the time when this grain was formed.”
The Antarctic meteorite was found and collected by NASA and later analyzed by scientists at the University of Toronto.
They used state-of-the-art microscopes to study the atoms that make up the space rock and found a small fragment containing an odd mix of graphite and silicate grains.
It turns out the tiny piece of material is stardust, which scientists have named LAP-149.
It’s thought to have formed 4.5 billion years ago following a violent star death known as a supernova explosion.
Hurled an unimaginable distance through the cosmos, the grain eventually landed in the region where our solar system would later form, getting caught up in a primitive meteorite.
Interstellar journeys such as these are important to the formation of new star systems, scientists said.
They provide fledgling worlds with chemical elements like carbon and oxygen, helping to spread key building blocks for life to far-flung corners of the galaxy.
The study gives new insights into the conditions of a dying star.
It also contradicts the long-held belief that the two types of stardust material, oxygen-rich and carbon-rich — which are building blocks in the formation of a solar system — could not form in the same star explosion.
Scientists hope to study bigger chunks of stardust in future to get a better idea of how life started in our Solar System.
“This kind of research, it’s part of a much larger debate of how life started on Earth,” said University of Toronto scientist Professor Jane Howe.
“We all care about who we are and where we came from.”