Microscopic messengers from the depths of space

Microscopic Messengers from the Depths of Space
Ulysses spacecraft at Jupiter encounter. Credit: ESA/Dave Hardy
(Phys.org)—In 1990, an important space probe was launched, tasked with the ambitious mission of orbiting the sun and scanning our star at all latitudes. However, the much-publicized mission was not solar research but the detection of tiny particles from interstellar space. This joint NASA/ESA mission, lasting 19 years, has revealed the properties of the particles originating from interstellar space and has provided new insights on these tiny cosmic visitors.

The researchers working on the project have recently published important scientific results regarding theUlysses mission and its findings. They extracted the most detailed information on mass, size, and flight direction of the interstellar dust using data from more than 900 particles examined by the spacecraft.

"The data from Ulysses that we have now evaluated for the first time in their entirety, are unique," said Harald Krüger, principal investigator of the Ulysses dust detector at the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Göttingen, Germany.

The particles, dubbed "messengers from the depths of space," are constantly invading our solar system as the sun and planets move through the Milky Way galaxy. We are now passing through a giant cloud of interstellar matter, called the Local Interstellar Cloud, the source of these dust particles, which is about 30 light years in diameter. The so-called "stardust" is embedded in the local galactic cloud through which the sun is moving at a speed of 26 km/s. A single dust grain takes 20 years to traverse the solar system.

The interstellar dust particles, detected in situ for the first time in 1993 by the Ulysses spacecraft, are very valuable for scientists as they contain crucial information about our more distant cosmic neighbors. The new study confirmed earlier findings, according to which the interstellar dust always sweeps through our solar system in approximately the same direction. The research also revealed precise information about the size of these particles, showing that some are remarkably large, even several micrometers wide, while the majority of the dust particles have diameters ranging from 0.05 to 0.5 micrometers, about one hundredth the diameter of a human hair.

According to Veerle Sterken from the University of Stuttgart in Germany, who led the analysis with Krüger, Ulysses' observational position was optimal to analyze the interstellar dust. Ulysses is the only spacecraft so far that has left the orbital plane of the planets and has flown over the sun's poles. While produced within our planetary system is concentrated in the orbital plane, interstellar dust can be measured well outside this plane. The unique orbit of the probe has also enabled studies of gamma-ray bursts that otherwise would not have been possible, and played a major role in discovering soft gamma repeaters, or "magnetars."

The study of the interstellar dust is important for understanding its role in forming celestial objects in the universe. "Stardust" can drive the mass loss when a star is nearing the end of its life, and plays a part in the early stages of star and planet formation. Astronomers estimate that approximately 4.6 billion years ago, the gravitational collapse of an interstellar cloud led to the formation of a protosolar disk, called the solar nebula, with a central condensation developing into our sun.

The observations and measurements of in different regions provide an important insight into the universe's recycling processes. Scientists try to obtain observational "snapshots" of the dust at different stages of its life and, over time, to create a complete movie of the universe's complicated recycling steps.

Ulysses helped to produce a complete movie of this process. The other missions, like Galileo and Cassini—as well as the mission Stardust, which in 2006 returned captured interstellar to Earth—are perceived by the researchers studying the topic as providing only snapshots of information. Now, the scientists endorse future ESA-led space missions to precisely investigate and help complete the big picture.


Explore further

Dust particles from afar

More information: Harald Krüger et al. SIXTEEN YEARS OF INTERSTELLAR DUST MEASUREMENTS IN THE SOLAR SYSTEM. I. MASS DISTRIBUTION AND GAS-TO-DUST MASS RATIO , The Astrophysical Journal (2015). DOI: 10.1088/0004-637X/812/2/139

Peter Strub et al. SIXTEEN YEARS OF INTERSTELLAR DUST MEASUREMENTS IN THE SOLAR SYSTEM. II. FLUCTUATIONS IN THE DUST FLOW FROM THE DATA , The Astrophysical Journal (2015). DOI: 10.1088/0004-637X/812/2/140

Veerle J. Sterken et al. SIXTEEN YEARS OF INTERSTELLAR DUST MEASUREMENTS IN THE SOLAR SYSTEM. III. SIMULATIONS AND DATA UNVEIL NEW INSIGHTS INTO LOCAL INTERSTELLAR DUST , The Astrophysical Journal (2015). DOI: 10.1088/0004-637X/812/2/141

Journal information: Astrophysical Journal

© 2015 Phys.org

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Oct 29, 2015
This comment has been removed by a moderator.

Oct 29, 2015
Yeah, it ain't real like your job of repairing car tires, but it's work.

Don't you wish you could do it?

Oct 29, 2015
This comment has been removed by a moderator.

Oct 29, 2015
IOW, you do not understand the implications of this information. That is your lack, not theirs.

Oct 29, 2015
This comment has been removed by a moderator.

Oct 29, 2015
Oh, . . . we all "forgot" you already knew all that stuff.

Why didn't you just tell us, so we could have used that money building alternative energy powerplants?

Oct 29, 2015
This comment has been removed by a moderator.

Oct 29, 2015
Once again, you fail to know all the new information they found. And theories and assumptions need proof, not guesses. This is proof.

Where is your paper telling us how you knew all of this long ago? Your complete understanding of the quality of the dust, which indicates its genesis, could have saved us millions.

Oct 29, 2015
This comment has been removed by a moderator.

Oct 29, 2015
This comment has been removed by a moderator.

Oct 29, 2015
Talk about job security.

Nineteen years just to measure a speck of dust once every ~7.5 days.

Have any of these people ever made an honest living in their life?

Ever had a real summer job, before they became a theorist?

If the goal of this project is to waste money, then it has done a fine job so far.


Money grubber guilt inflected speech patterns = poor conservative = hates everything that doesn't hate what they hate, wants all money to oppress things they hate. No other motivation.

Complete moon-howler.

Please fund better education in your place of rearing, as it has reared you stupid.

Oct 30, 2015
The usual false choice troll. Scientists are among the most hard working people you can find, because it is a voluntary meritocracy.

And as opposed to IT's work of changing tires, science gives among the best ROI there is. According to NASA studies, it pays 20:1 on investment. The problem is that you can't predict what investment will give the visible return. But the solution is that everything is mutually reinforcing.

Dust studies helps us understand the planetary neighborhood and its risks, which knowledge will eventually give us vast resources of asteroids minerals. It has already given us invaluable understanding of our immune system, and the dust bombarded ISS is used to develop medicines because of free fall effects on human biology. Et cetera.

Oct 30, 2015
From where did that "moderator" arise? I have been calling for one for months now.

Is it going to disappear now, leaving no trace again? I will report my own post to see. I do not think my lawyer has even called them yet.

Oct 30, 2015
From where did that "moderator" arise? I have been calling for one for months now.


Careful what you wish for Cher. "He" might just show up when you call.

Is it going to disappear now, leaving no trace again?


What?

I will report my own post to see.


You learn to think up the experiments like that in your master school? What is it you think you are going to see? I predict that what you will see is some peoples sitting around laughing at you.

I do not think my lawyer has even called them yet.


Yeah, they are laughing a lot at that too.

Oct 30, 2015
Once again, Ira, unable to debate a technical issue goes personal. It is all he has. If we get a moderator, he is gone, . . . back to facebook with the other kids.

Oct 30, 2015
Once again, Ira, unable to debate a technical issue goes personal.


Skippy, that is another GREAT BIG LIE. I was debating the technical issue you brought up first,,,,, yeah this one,,,,,

From where did that "moderator" arise? I have been calling for one for months now.

Is it going to disappear now, leaving no trace again? I will report my own post to see. I do not think my lawyer has even called them yet.


That is the technical issue I was debating. Feel silly yet?

If we get a moderator, he is gone, . . . back to facebook with the other kids.


Cher what if it is YOU that gets gone? Then what? But you have that covered with all those really smart puppets you got in your sock drawer. Skippy why is that you just KNOW that nobody could ever be as smart you are? You have not been paying attention very good, choot, you have not even been paying attention very bad.

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