Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Cleaning Up Cosmic Dust

I imagine the earth must be fairly dusty by now, as it receives about 40,000 tons of dust particles from space each year. But once in awhile (NASA has been collecting dust since 1982), a unique mineral is found among the clouds of interplanetary dust.

Scientists recently discovered a new mineral, which is thought to have originated from a comet, although its properties are so unusual that no one is really sure where it comes from.

Space dust is particularly interesting because its composition holds clues as to how our solar system is formed. Very tiny clues. The grains of the mineral, a manganese silicide named Brownleeite (named after astronomer Donald E. Brownlee) were approximately 1/10,000 of an inch in size. The researchers used a transmission electron microscope to study the mineral's nano-scale crystal structure and chemical composition.

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