The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Specks returned from space may be alien visitors; team suspects 7 grains are interstellar dust

  • Print
In this undated image provided by the journal Science shows the keystoning apparatus cutting a picokeystone out of the Stardust interstellar collector at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. Scientists said seven microscopic particles collected by NASA's comet-chasing spacecraft, Stardust, appear to have originated outside our solar system. The dust collectors were exposed to space in the early 2000s and returned to Earth in 2006. (AP Photo/Science, Zack Gainsforth)

Enlarge Image

In this undated image provided by the journal Science shows the keystoning apparatus cutting a picokeystone out of the Stardust interstellar collector at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. Scientists said seven microscopic particles collected by NASA's comet-chasing spacecraft, Stardust, appear to have originated outside our solar system. The dust collectors were exposed to space in the early 2000s and returned to Earth in 2006. (AP Photo/Science, Zack Gainsforth)

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - There may be itsy-bitsy aliens among us.

Scientists say seven microscopic particles collected by NASA's comet-chasing spacecraft, Stardust, appear to have originated outside our solar system. If confirmed, this would be the world's first sampling of contemporary interstellar dust.

"They are very precious particles," the team leader, physicist Andrew Westphal of the University of California, Berkeley, said in a statement Thursday.

The dust collectors were exposed to what is believed to be the interstellar dust stream in the early 2000s and returned to Earth in 2006. Since then, dozens of scientists worldwide led by Westphal have examined scans of the collection panels to zero in on the particles. The team was assisted by 30,000 citizen-scientists, dubbed Dusters, who reviewed more than 1 million images in search of elusive tracks made by incoming particles.

The findings were published Thursday in the journal Science.

Westphal said the suspected interstellar particles are surprisingly diverse. Some are fluffy like snowflakes.

A few particles splatted a little when they hit the collection panels because of their speed and the fact that some ended up hitting the aluminum foils between the softer aerogel tiles meant to capture the grains. In fact, one particle believed to be following the flow of interstellar wind was vaporized because it was going so fast — an estimated 10 miles per second.

The dust is considered young by cosmic standards: less than 50 million to 100 million years old, the life expectancy of interstellar dust.

Westphal said additional testing is needed before concluding these seven specks are truly from outside our solar system. And there may be more: Roughly half the dust-collection panels have yet to be scanned. The physicist expects to find no more than a dozen interstellar dust specks in all, however, a tiny fraction of the amount of comet matter gathered by Stardust.

More than 50 grains embedded in the Stardust collectors were deemed to be debris from the spacecraft itself.

NASA launched Stardust in 1999 to collect debris from Comet Wild-2. The Stardust capsule parachuted back to Earth, landing in the Utah desert seven years later.

___

Online:

Science: http://www.sciencemag.org/

NASA: http://stardust.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news116.html

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Gail Asper says museum honours her father’s vision

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • A baby Red Panda in her area at the Zoo. International Red Panda Day is Saturday September 15th and the Assiniboine Park Zoo will be celebrating in a big way! The Zoo is home to three red pandas - Rufus, Rouge and their cub who was born on June 30 of this year. The female cub has yet to be named and the Assiniboine Park Zoo is asking the community to help. September 14, 2012  BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS
  • Horses enjoy a beautiful September morning east of Neepawa, Manitoba  - Standup Photo– Sept 04, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

Should the federal government be able to censor how Ottawa is portrayed in the CMHR?

View Results

Ads by Google