“Cassini” Probe: First Chemical Stardust Analysis Surprised Researchers

With more than 70,000 km/h dust around other stars passes through our solar system permanently, researchers for the first time have been able to investigate the particles accurately.

When astronomers want to know about the universe beyond the solar system, they usually work with telescopes. They analyze, for example, the light emitted by stars light. They can obtain a lot of information, like, the structure of a star, its chemical composition and the surface temperature.

But there is another way to do research beyond on the edge of the solar system, by trying to capture the Stardust which races by constantly at high speed to the sun and planets.  These are rare and therefore difficult to detect particles come from the interstellar space outside the solar system.

Researchers have now successfully been able to analyze such particles chemically using a constructed Heidelberg dust detector. A total of 36 particles with a size of 200 nanometers showed aboard the spacecraft “Cassini” where the scientists detected them using the Cosmic Dust Analyzer (CDA) after it met with more than 70,000 km/h on the detector and were then analyzed with a mass spectrometer.

Typical cosmic abundances

The results of the measurements are surprising according to the scientists’ report by Mario Trieloff of the University of Heidelberg published in the journal Science. The 36 particles were very similar in their structure and in their composition.  Proved to have the elements; magnesium, iron, silicon and calcium – in average cosmic abundances with the exception of very volatile gases gathered in the particles of the entire element mixture.

“Such particles cannot be found in our solar system,” said Frank Postberg of the University of Heidelberg. Many scientists would have expected the dust particles to have very different composition that represent the different formation processes in atmospheres of dying stars.  But this was not the case with the examined 36 particles.


The researchers believe that the dust particles were originally quite differently and then later were homogenized. Their theory is that shock fronts of supernova explosions have added to the dust repeatedly in the end a variety of particles are virtually created.

Interstellar dust particles had already been detected in the nineties of the probe “Ulysses” and later of “Galileo”. The Nasa probe “Stardust” in 2006 even brought a few particles of stardust with a landing capsule to Earth but were not chemically analyzed to such extent.

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