Researchers have reconstructed the journey of a grain of dust since the formation of the solar system

Sometimes we talk about space travel that is quite a feat by distance or duration, like the Voyager probes or New Horizons. But the trip that scientists from the University of Arizona have now deduced could set all records, albeit on a molecular scale since it involves reconstructing the journey of a grain of dust from the origin of the solar system.

By agreement, and as explained by NASA, it is established that the solar system was created more than 4,500 million years ago, and we know that there are very old materials Surrounding us because, among other things, on Earth we came to find a stardust meteorite from 7 million years ago. Findings like that remind us that the materials that were formed (or projected) at that time or somewhat later have been able to travel through the cosmos, and what these scientists have wanted to do is to recompose a trip that starts more or less from the moment in which the Earth began to be born.

A suitcase with winter and summer clothes

The university publication on the study explains that the team of researchers has reconstructed the history of a dust grain formed at the birth of our solar system using an advanced simulation model, combining quantum mechanics and thermodynamics, combined with a detailed analysis.

The model simulates the conditions to which the stardust grain was exposed in its formation, that moment we were discussing when our entire “neighborhood” was born. A point at which the “proto-solar system” is considered to be a large cloud of gas and dust in the shape of a rotating disk, as we can also read in the NASA document that we linked before (usually called the solar nebula or protoplanetary disk).

The sample is a fragment of the Allende meteorite, which fell in 1969 over Chihuahua (Mexico). Its composition includes several elements, such as calcium and aluminum inclusions, which is precisely interesting given that, as they point out in the article, it is believed that these calcium aluminide compounds and similar salts are among the first solid compounds that were formed in that hatching of the system.

Hence, among other instruments, they had to use scanning electron microscopes. atomic resolution. Something that, as we saw recently, is difficult to achieve and there are not many.

Arizona University 02Arizona University 02 Illustration of the story of the possible journey of the dust grain. Originating not far from Earth, the grain would have been transported to hotter points and later to colder regions, until it became part of an asteroid. Image: Heather Roper / Zega et al

As they conclude, their model and analysis have given indications of the path of the dust grain and of the conditions that would have shaped it along said journey. According to the composition of the elements and the crystalline structure, which these researchers interpret (or translate for us to the general public, rather) like the stamps of a passport, the dust grain was formed in a region of the solar nebula not too far from where our planet is now.

From this point, the grain would have moved to a location closer to the Sun, which evidently would have warmed up. But a subsequent break would have moved it away from the Astro Rey towards colder regions to finally join an asteroid, which after decomposing would have ended up being trapped by the gravitational field of the Earth, until it was projected to the Mexican region.

Beyond the layout of this trip itself, the work is interesting in order to have greater knowledge of the basic processes of planet formation, still under study. The hope is that with the telescopes that we have, increasingly powerful, we will be able to take a look at other formation discs and thus compare the data that we already have, according to Tom Zega, professor at the University of Arizona and director of This studio.

Of course, according to what has been studied, a large amount of stardust is reaching Earth. At least 5,200 metric tons of micrometeorites a year, so in principle they can have samples for a while if they want to continue charting trips.

Image | Heather Ropet / Zega et al

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