'Interstellar dust' ? 'Cosmic dust' ? Seems odd isn't it, that something as annoying as dust can be associated with something as stellar as space. But this dust is everywhere. Yes! It fills the spaces between planets and stars, in the atmosphere around earth and even besides you!
(Check out my post on Fun facts about cosmic dust. You will be surprised! https://www.pratha.info/post/surprising-fun-facts-about-cosmic-dust)
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Image src: https://physics.stackexchange.com/
What exactly is cosmic dust and what is it made of ?
Cosmic dust also known as star dust has been floating across space. It is made up of the waste products that you get when a star dies. When the star dies and goes supernova it throws out oxygen, nitrogen, carbon, iron etc. and these elements (whose atoms are heavier than hydrogen and helium) form dust. This dust primarily originates in the Kuiper Belt, just beyond the orbit of Neptune.
Illustration of grains found with interstellar dust
Why is cosmic dust important?
Dust is a often overlooked topic in space studies but it is important to have understanding of interstellar dust. Dust traps light coming from the stars, planets, blackholes etc. that are present behind the dust. We want to know more about these objects that we can't see because the unknown always intrigues us! In order to have a better understanding of the celestial objects trapped behind the dust, first we need to understand the light coming from the dust.
Dust has a unique way of telling a story, for instance- the rock particles in the cosmic dust found on earth carry information about the environment in which they were formed and all the events that have happened to them in the course of their existence. A study of these rock particles can reveal a lot about our solar system and the universe. Dust can help us solve bog mysteries of the universe.
Cosmic dust provides us with facts that meteorites can't because meteorites come form a particular location and therefore store information corresponding to their location but cosmic dust comes form everywhere (this includes the deepest and remotest corners of our solar system.
Interstellar dust from milkyway. Image src: https://www.synchrotron-soleil.fr/