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Space & Astronomy

Cassini samples interstellar dust particles

By T.K. Randall
April 18, 2016 · Comment icon 6 comments



Cassini has been exploring Saturn and its moons for almost 12 years. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
NASA's Cassini spacecraft has picked up particles of dust originating from outside our solar system.
The bus-sized space probe, which arrived in the Saturnian system back in 2004, has achieved a great deal over the years and has taught scientists much about the ringed giant and its moons.

One of the instruments aboard the spacecraft is the Cosmic Dust Analyzer (CDA), a device that collects and examines dust particles such as those ejected by the geysers on Enceladus.

In its latest analysis however Cassini has picked up something altogether unexpected - 36 tiny particles that appear to have originated, not from Saturn, but from interstellar space.
"We're thrilled Cassini could make this detection, given that our instrument was designed primarily to measure dust from within the Saturn system, as well as all the other demands on the spacecraft," said Cassini fields and particles scientist Marcia Burton.

As well as picking up the dust grains, the spacecraft was able to conduct a compositional analysis - something that had never been done before on material from outside the solar system.

"The grains all had a surprisingly similar chemical make-up, containing major rock-forming elements like magnesium, silicon, iron and calcium in average cosmic proportions," NASA wrote.

"Conversely, more reactive elements like sulfur and carbon were found to be less abundant compared to their average cosmic abundance."

Source: Gizmag.com | Comments (6)


Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #1 Posted by Merc14 7 years ago
How can they tell this is interstellar dust and not dust created within our solar system?
Comment icon #2 Posted by Waspie_Dwarf 7 years ago
How can they tell this is interstellar dust and not dust created within our solar system? From the article: The tiny dust grains were speeding through the Saturn system at over 45,000 mph (72,000 kilometers per hour), fast enough to avoid being trapped inside the solar system by the gravity of the sun and its planets. And also from chemical analysis of the dust. Again, from the article: Importantly, unlike Ulysses and Galileo, Cassini was able to analyze the composition of the dust for the first time, showing it to be made of a very specific mixture of minerals, not ice. The grains all had a s... [More]
Comment icon #3 Posted by Merc14 7 years ago
From the article: And also from chemical analysis of the dust. Again, from the article: Thanks Waspie, was reading at work and but wasn't sure how they could differentiate the chemical make-up.
Comment icon #4 Posted by paperdyer 7 years ago
It's a shame the probe can't send any of the dust particles back for further analysis.
Comment icon #5 Posted by BeastieRunner 7 years ago
It's a shame the probe can't send any of the dust particles back for further analysis. I had the same thought as well.
Comment icon #6 Posted by Merc14 7 years ago
It is such a tribute to the science and engineering teams that Cassini has been flying around the Saturn system since 2004, has made so many unbelievable discoveries already and is still breaking new ground. They will be studying the data gathered by this incredible spacecraft for decades but it will be a sad day when she gets her final orders and makes that last dive into Saturn's atmosphere.


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