Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Making sense of space dust: Researchers explore solar system's origins

Date:
August 16, 2010
Source:
University of Central Florida
Summary:
The chemical breakdown of minerals that may be lurking in space dust soon will be available to scientists around the world.

Professor Peale works with Tatiana Brustentsova, a post-doctoral research associate in his lab.
Credit: Jason Greene

The chemical breakdown of minerals that may be lurking in space dust soon will be available to scientists around the world.

Because space dust contains the basic ingredients that form planets, the University of Central Florida physicists' analysis could provide important clues about how the solar system formed and how life emerged.

For decades, astrophysicists have been studying these clouds of dust, which contain ices, silicate minerals and iron compounds. But until the UCF team started looking at earth's minerals with far IR spectroscopy, identifying the minerals in space dust was . . . ambiguous at best.

"It was an educated best guess," said Robert Peale, a physics professor who has worked on mineral sampling projects at UCF since 1991. "We've analyzed more than 160 minerals found on earth. Now we can compare our findings with new results coming in from the European Space Agency's Herschel telescope and start making some headway."

Scientists have been using Herschel and NASA's Spitzer telescope to chronicle observations of space dust, and they also evaluate rare samples brought back from space missions or found when meteorites crash on earth.

Knowing what kinds of minerals are floating in space and are on asteroids and other planets can give scientists clues to the temperature of those celestial bodies, whether water is present and how the asteroids and planets were formed.

"A complete understanding of the mineralogy of cosmic dust is essential to understanding the formation and mineralogy of planets and, ultimately, to unraveling how life emerged in the universe," said Tatiana Brustentsova, a post-doctoral research associate working with Peale on the $250,000 project.

NASA funded the research through its Jet Propulsion Lab in California. The agency is collaborating with the European Space Agency's Herschel mission, which launched in May 2009. The research is being performed in collaboration with scientists George Harlow and Dr. Denton Ebel at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City and with Carey Lisse and Karl Hibbetts at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab.

The far-IR spectra for the minerals UCF's team studied will be available to scientists around the world via the Internet once the project concludes this summer. Findings will be published this year in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society journal.

Scientists use IR spectral analysis to look at the chemical properties of matter and gas. Each mineral is ground up to a fine powder, mixed and melted into a transparent plastic pellet, and then it is placed in an instrument that looks at its infrared transmission spectrum.

Each mineral absorbs infrared at specific frequencies that correspond to its chemical composition and structure -- playing a very specific "tune" that can be observed and recorded by the spectrometer. Minerals can be identified in space by comparing the "music" emitted by cosmic dust with the "scores" the UCF researchers wrote for the minerals in the lab.

The observations in space don't always match the chemical signature of minerals on earth, possibly because they undergo unique kinds of weathering, such as cosmic ray bombardment.

The team hopes to get funding for the extension of the project in time to capitalize on the European Space Agency's planned SPICA (Space Infra-Red Telescope for Cosmology and Astrophysics) space mission set to launch in 2018.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Central Florida. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University of Central Florida. "Making sense of space dust: Researchers explore solar system's origins." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 16 August 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/08/100811093011.htm>.
University of Central Florida. (2010, August 16). Making sense of space dust: Researchers explore solar system's origins. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 29, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/08/100811093011.htm
University of Central Florida. "Making sense of space dust: Researchers explore solar system's origins." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/08/100811093011.htm (accessed July 29, 2014).

Share This




More Space & Time News

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Russia Saves Gecko Sex Satellite, Media Has Some Fun With It

Russia Saves Gecko Sex Satellite, Media Has Some Fun With It

Newsy (July 27, 2014) The satellite is back under ground control after a tense few days, but with a gecko sex experiment on board, the media just couldn't help themselves. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
NASA EDGE: OCO-2 Launch

NASA EDGE: OCO-2 Launch

NASA (July 25, 2014) NASA EDGE webcasts live from Vandenberg AFB for the launch of the Oribiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO) launch. Video provided by NASA
Powered by NewsLook.com
This Week @ NASA, July 25, 2014

This Week @ NASA, July 25, 2014

NASA (July 25, 2014) Apollo 11 celebration, Next Giant Leap anticipation, ISS astronauts appear in the House and more... Video provided by NASA
Powered by NewsLook.com
Space to Ground: Coming and Going

Space to Ground: Coming and Going

NASA (July 25, 2014) One station cargo ship leaves, another arrives, aquatic research and commercial spinoffs. Questions or comments? Use #spacetoground to talk to us. Video provided by NASA
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins