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Space Dust Found Hiding In Antarctica

The isotope iron-60, found hidden in Earth’s most isolated part

The Kohnen Station, where the radioisotopes were found.Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

According to a new research, scientists have found evidence of radioactive dust produced in nearby supernovae hiding under a thousand pounds of Antarctic snow.

Lead researcher Dominik Koll, a doctoral candidate at the Australian National University, said, “After a massive excavation effort, scientists hope that studying the dust will reveal new secrets about the cosmic environment surrounding our solar system. By studying the fallout of an ancient cosmic explosion, we have a chance to better understand the history of our galactic neighborhood.”

The investigators informed that the dust stood out because it contains an iron isotope called iron-60, which is commonly released by supernovas but very rare on Earth. (Isotopes are versions of elements that differ in the numbers of neutrons in their atoms.)

In the search for elusive space dust, scientists analyzed more than 1,100 lbs. (500 kilograms) of surface snow that they gathered from a high-altitude region of Antarctica near the German Kohnen Station. In that location, the snow would be mostly free of contamination from terrestrial dust, the researchers reported in a new study.

Koll’s team evaporated the snow in their lab to collect the tiny specks of space dust, then analyzed it for radioactive isotopes, according to research accepted for publication in the journal Physical Review Letters.

The team of scientists found far more radioactive isotopes than they would have if the dust had just passed through everyday cosmic rays en route to Earth. Rather, the team cited their past work, which showed that a supernova had deposited iron into our solar system sometime within the last 1.5 to 3 million years.

It’s likely, then, that the Earth is currently traveling the remnants of that explosion, a hunch that could help scientists better map the composition of the Milky Way.

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