Some solar system dust is 'interstellar'

Feb. 1, 2013 at 3:49 PM
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LONDON, Feb. 1 (UPI) -- A study of the dust in our solar system has determined a percentage of it came from interstellar space beyond the system, British astrophysicists say.

While 70 percent of the dust that is found between the Sun and Mars comes from comets and 22 percent is from asteroids, around 7 1/2 percent comes from outside the solar system, said astrophysicists Michael Rowan-Robinson and Brian May, who recently completed the doctorate he had abandoned to become lead guitarist for the rock group Queen.

The work is an extension of May's doctoral research, which was supervised by Rowan-Robinson, Nanowerk News reported Friday.

"It's something close to my heart, because I wanted to publish this part of the research in the 1970s but was dissuaded," May said on his blog in December when the study was accepted for publication.

The figures modeled by Rowan-Robinson and May correlate well to recorded observations from spacecraft including the Ulysses mission, a joint venture of NASA and the European Space Agency.

"This is a nice confirmation of an idea put forward by Brian and his Imperial [College] collaborators in the early 1970s, subsequently confirmed by measurements on Ulysses and other spacecraft," Rowan-Robinson said.

Dust in our solar system is eventually destroyed as it falls into the Sun, but the constant creation of new dust from the three sources -- comets, asteroids and interstellar -- replenishes it.

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