New research has confirmed that fossilized cosmic dust has been found in the world-famous white cliffs of Dover in England. Now, the iconic hills could hold important clues about how our solar system evolved.
“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,” Martian Suttle, the lead researcher in the study, commented. “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.”
Cosmic dust is composed of microscopic particles that originated from space. As rare as it may seem, it’s actually all over our planet—22,000 to 33,000 tons of it falls to Earth every year—but it’s nearly impossible to locate.
Identifying fossilized cosmic dust is a talent of its own. In the fossilization process, the original minerals of the dust sample are replaced with other minerals, so recognizing the dust based on its composition isn’t an option. The team used the dust’s shape and crystal structure to identify the cosmic dust, finding 76 fossilized micro meteorites. The dust dates back to the Coniacian age of the Upper Cretaceous, around 87 million years ago.
The samples open the door for new studies, given the extraordinary preservation of their structure.
“The discovery … demonstrates that extraterrestrial dust, preserved in marine sediments, can be successfully extracted and identified even where complete secondary replacement (fossilization) has occurred,” the researchers wrote in the paper. “Until now geochemical criteria have been required for the positive identification of cosmic dust; however, because complete secondary replacement can occur, fossil micro meteorites imply new identification criteria, independent of geochemical metrics.”
That means scientists might be able to learn about events in our solar system that are up to 98 million years old.
Source: Science Alert