Fossilized pieces of extraterrestrial dust have been discovered along the British coastline.
Scientists found the galactic specks – known as micrometeorites – embedded into the White Cliffs of Dover in the UK.
Seventy-six preserved pieces of the galaxy were found in the cliff’s white chalk, dating back 87 million years go to the Coniacian age. The research was published in Earth and Planetary Science Letters.
And even though the world is covered in space dust – at least 22,000 to 33,000 tons of the celestial shimmer falls to Earth ever year – the latest discovery could help scientists learn more about the early days of the solar system.
“The iconic white cliffs of Dover are an important source of fossilized creatures that help us to determine the changes and upheavals the planet has undergone many millions of years ago,” the study’s lead researcher, Martin Suttle, said in a statement.
“It is so exciting because we’ve now discovered that fossilized space dust is entombed alongside these creatures, which can also provide us with information about what was happening in our solar system at the time.”
Space dust is extremely difficult to detect and fossilized space dust even more so, as the Earth’s preservation process ends up replacing most of the dust’s original minerals. The latest discovery could help scientists unlock events in our solar system – such as asteroid collisions — up to 98 million years ago.
And beyond looking into the past, an accompanying study – published in Geology – reported that the discovery helped scientists create a way to determine whether or not a piece of space dust was clay rich.
This process – which could point towards a watery asteroid — may help future astronauts successfully make their way through the galaxy during deep space exploration missions.
“In the distant future, asteroids could provide human space explorers with valuable stop offs during long voyages. Being able to source water is vital because it can be used to drink, to make oxygen and even fuel to power spacecraft,” Matt Genge, the lead author in an accompanying study published in Geology, said in a statement. “The relevance of our study is that cosmic dust particles that land on Earth could ultimately be used to trace where these water-rich asteroids may be, providing a valuable tool for mapping this resource.”