NASA finds cosmic dust speeding through our solar system
NASA just discovered some special particles floating in our cosmic neighborhood.
The Cassini spacecraft, which has been orbiting Saturn since 2004, has detected alien dust that came from outside our solar system.
Scientists suspect that this dust is interstellar in origin because it moves fast and in different directions, compared to the dust found on Saturn, according to a recently published report in the journal of Science. And although this alien dust was faint, it had a distinct signature.
Cassini has been studying the gas giant and its moons. During its tenure, the spacecraft used its cosmic dust analyzer to sample millions of ice-rich dust grains.
Understanding the makeup of interstellar dust can help scientists learn more about how stars, planets and, ultimately, our universe has taken shape.
Most of those dust came from Saturn’s active moon Enceladus. The moon, which has a global ocean and other geographic features, has active jets that spray dust particles into space.
Out of the millions of cosmic particles the spacecraft collected, 36 were special. These were alien dust grains. Scientists concluded that the dust came from interstellar space — the void that exists between stars.
Scientists have come across alien dust in our solar system before, so the discovery is not unprecedented. In the 1990s, international researchers from the ESA/NASA Ulysses mission made an observation of foreign dust, which was traced back to an interstellar cloud.
“From that discovery, we always hoped we would be able to detect these interstellar interlopers at Saturn with Cassini. We knew that if we looked in the right direction, we should find them,” said Nicolas Altobelli, Cassini project scientist at the European Space Agency and lead author of the study.
These microscopic dust particles were traveling at high speed through space when Cassini detected them. They were moving at a rate of 45,000 mph, a speed so fast the dust can essentially avoid being trapped by our sun’s gravitational forces.