Planets Were Formed from a Giant Mix
20 Dec 2006
(Source: Imperial College of London)
The findings, reported in the journal Science, come from the first analysis of dust fragments from Comet Wild-2, captured by NASA's Stardust spacecraft and brought to Earth in January 2006. Because comets are among the oldest objects in the Solar System, the team, which includes researchers from Imperial College London and the Natural History Museum, believes their sample of dust can provide insights into how Earth and other planets came to be formed.
Using spectroscopy technology which does not damage the mineral content of the particles, the team found that the comet dust is made up of many different mineral compositions rather than a single dominant one. This implies that the dust was formed in many different environments before coming together to make the comet, indicating a great deal of mixing in the early Solar System prior to the formation of planets.
Particularly significant was the discovery of calcium aluminium inclusions, which are amongst the oldest solids in the Solar System and are thought to have formed close to the young Sun. This discovery suggests that components of the comet came from all over the early Solar System, with some dust having formed close to the Sun and other material coming from the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Since Wild-2 originally formed in the outer Solar System, this means that some of its composite material has travelled great distances. Dr Phil Bland New Window of Imperial's Department of Earth Science and Engineering says:
"We weren't expecting to find such widely-spread material in the sample of dust we were given to examine. The composition of minerals is all over the place, which tells us that the components that built this comet weren't formed in one place at one time by one event. It seems that the Solar System was born in much more turbulent conditions than we previously thought."
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'Mineralogy and Petrology of Comet 81P/Wild-2 Nucleas Samples', Science, 15 December 2006