Home » SCIENCE » Star dust, main clue to formation of life on planets, recreated in lab
JSC2006-E-00881 (17 January 2006) ---- Containers for the Sample Return Canister and associated hardware from NASA's Stardust mission arrive aboard a C-130 aircraft at Ellington Field, near the Johnson Space Center, which is home to the facility in which the returned comet and interstellar dust samples will be processed. Stardust returned safely to Earth when the capsule carrying the particles successfully touched down at 2:10 a.m. Pacific time (4:10 a.m. Central time) on Jan. 15 in the desert salt flats of the U.S. Air Force Utah Test and Training Range. Image credit: NASA

Star dust, main clue to formation of life on planets, recreated in lab

Star dust in deeper space may provide clues to our understanding of the life-formation elements on planets, especially by recreating isotopes that result when a star explodes.

The dust left behind after explosion can help space scientists and pysicists trace the location where the possibility of life-supporting elements do exist in space, said Indian-origin researcher Zena Patel.

This image shows the tracks left by two comet particles after they impacted the Stardust spacecraft’s comet dust collector. The collector is made up of a low-density glass material called aerogel. Scientists have begun extracting comet particles from these and other similar tadpole-shaped tracks.(NASA Photo)

“Our study essentially demonstrates how star dust plays a role in the formation of life-supporting planets,” he said. It will pave the way for next phase of work in understanding the conditions needed for life in the universe, said researchers.

A Nasa probe had collected stardust samples in 2006 and a few particles were found to have had distinct elements of being forged in star explosions or the dusty disks around distant stars.

The researchers recreated similar laboratory conditions at the University of Surrey in Britain and observed for the first time exotic isotopes when a star explodes. These isotopes — samarium and gadolinium — are sensitive tracers of the way stars explode, they noted.

The isotopes can help us understand the origins of the heavy elements, which support life in other planets. “The important and exciting nuclear physics we are learning from these experiments will teach us a lot about the universe we see today,” said Patel.

“Our work involved recreating some of the isotopes that are formed when a star explodes. This was done by accelerating uranium to 70% of the speed of light and colliding it into a metal target,” said another researcher and co-author Phil Walker.

The team analysed the fragments left behind using a gamma-ray microscope and found the reaction in the form of exotic isotopes with deformed ‘shell gap’ in the nuclear structure that had never been studied before.

The study helps map the pathway for the creation of elements that are essential to support life, said researchers. The study has been published in the journal Physical Review Letters.

(With inputs from IANS)

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