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Dust from a comet has been discovered for the first time on the Earth’s surface

Posted December 10, 2014

A combined team of researchers from Japan and the U.S. has found particles of comet dust in ice extracted from the Antarctic—the first time comet dust particles have been found on the surface of the Earth. In their paper published in the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters, the researchers describe how they found the dust particles and what they’ve learned by analyzing them.

Dust from a comet has been discovered for the first time on the Earth's surface

Credit: Earth and Planetary Science Letters, Volume 410, 15 January 2015, Pages 1–11.

Finding samples of material from a comet is no easy feat, sending probes to them and back is a rare occurrence. Because of that, scientists have taken to collecting samples floating about high in the Earth’s the atmosphere—an approach that has its limitations as it involves using a sticky sheet that nets few of the dust particles and which leaves oils on the samples which are further dirtied by solvents meant to clean them. In this latest effort, the researchers drilled down approximately 58 feet into the Antarctic snow and ice at a place called Tottuki Point. When the ice was melted back in their lab, the researchers found, among other things, extremely tiny (10 to just over 60 micrometers) dust particles which they initially believed to be meteorite dust. Subsequent analysis however showed that the particles (known as chondritic porous interplanetary dust particles) were a near perfect match to comet samples collected by NASA with its Stardust probe project and samples found in the atmosphere.

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