Dust That's Worth Keeping

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Images taken of interstellar space often display a colorful canvas of portions of the electromagnetic spectrum. Dispersed throughout the images are interstellar clouds of dust and gas--remnants ejected from stars and supernovae over billions and billions of years. For more than 40 years, astronomers have observed that interstellar dust exhibits a consistent effect at a spectral wavelength of 2,175 angstroms, the equivalent of 5.7 electronvolts in energy on the electromagnetic spectrum. At this wavelength, light from stars is absorbed by dust in the interstellar medium, blocking the stars light from reaching Earth. The 2,175-angstrom feature, which looks like a bump ... continued below

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5 p. (0.3 MB)

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Hazi, A January 25, 2006.

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Images taken of interstellar space often display a colorful canvas of portions of the electromagnetic spectrum. Dispersed throughout the images are interstellar clouds of dust and gas--remnants ejected from stars and supernovae over billions and billions of years. For more than 40 years, astronomers have observed that interstellar dust exhibits a consistent effect at a spectral wavelength of 2,175 angstroms, the equivalent of 5.7 electronvolts in energy on the electromagnetic spectrum. At this wavelength, light from stars is absorbed by dust in the interstellar medium, blocking the stars light from reaching Earth. The 2,175-angstrom feature, which looks like a bump on spectra, is the strongest ultraviolet-visible light spectral signature of interstellar dust and is visible along nearly every observational line of sight. Scientists have sought to solve the mystery of what causes the 2,175-angstrom feature by reproducing the effect in the laboratory. They speculated a number of possibilities, including fullerenes (buckyballs), nanodiamonds, and even interstellar organisms. However, none of these materials fits the data for the unique spectral feature. Limitations in the energy and spatial resolution achievable with electron microscopes and ion microprobes--the two main instruments used to study samples of dust--have also prevented scientists from finding the answer. A collaborative effort led by Livermore physicist John Bradley and funded by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has used a new-generation transmission electron microscope (TEM) and nanoscale ion microprobe to unlock the mystery. The Livermore group includes physicists Zu Rong Dai, Ian Hutcheon, Peter Weber, and Sasa Bajt and postdoctoral researchers Hope Ishii, Giles Graham, and Julie Smith. They collaborated with the University of California at Davis (UCD), Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Washington University's Laboratory for Space Sciences in St. Louis, and NASA's Ames Research Center for their discovery. The team analyzed micrometer-size interplanetary dust particles (IDPs), each about one-tenth the diameter of a human hair. Within the particles, they found carriers of the 2,175-angstrom feature: organic carbon mixed with amorphous silicates (glass with embedded metals and sulfides, GEMS), two of the most common materials in interstellar space. Ishii says, ''Organic carbon and amorphous silicates are abundant in interstellar dust clouds, and abundant carriers are needed to account for the frequent astronomical observation of the 2,175-angstrom feature. It makes sense that this ubiquitous feature would come from common materials in interstellar space''. The group's results increase scientific understanding of the starting materials for the formation of the Sun, solar system, and life on Earth.

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5 p. (0.3 MB)

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PDF-file: 5 pages; size: 0.3 Mbytes

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  • Report No.: UCRL-TR-218442
  • Grant Number: W-7405-ENG-48
  • DOI: 10.2172/893993 | External Link
  • Office of Scientific & Technical Information Report Number: 893993
  • Archival Resource Key: ark:/67531/metadc887822

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Office of Scientific & Technical Information Technical Reports

Reports, articles and other documents harvested from the Office of Scientific and Technical Information.

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  • January 25, 2006

Added to The UNT Digital Library

  • Sept. 22, 2016, 2:13 a.m.

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  • April 13, 2017, 6:16 p.m.

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Hazi, A. Dust That's Worth Keeping, report, January 25, 2006; Livermore, California. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc887822/: accessed December 18, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.