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Location: UFOUpDatesList.Com > 2004 > Feb > Feb 27

Carbon Found Older Than Solar System

From: Frank Warren <frank-warren.nul>
Date: Thu, 26 Feb 2004 14:52:04 -0800
Fwd Date: Fri, 27 Feb 2004 09:49:02 -0500
Subject: Carbon Found Older Than Solar System

Source: Eureka Alert

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)



Carbon Found To Be Older Than The Solar System

For the first time, researchers have identified organic material
in interplanetary dust particles (IDPs), gathered from the
Earth's stratosphere, that was made before the birth of our
Solar System.

The material was identified on the basis of its carbon isotopic
composition, which is different from the carbon found on Earth
and in other parts of the Solar System. Isotopes are variations
of elements that differ from each other in the number of
neutrons they have, making them similar chemically but different

Christine Floss, Ph.D., senior research scientist in Earth and
Planetary Sciences and Physics at Washington University in St.
Louis, said that the organic material in the IDP she and her
colleagues analyzed probably was formed in molecular clouds in
the interstellar medium before the formation of the Solar
System. The isotopic anomalies are produced by chemical
fractionation at the very low temperatures found in these
molecular clouds.

"Our findings are proof that there is presolar organic material
coming into the Solar System yet today," Floss said. "This
material has been preserved for more than 4.5 billion years,
which is the age of the Solar System. It's amazing that it has
survived for so long."

The finding helps in understanding the Solar System's formation
and the origin of organic matter on Earth. The work was
published in the Feb. 27, 2004 issue of Science, and was
supported by NASA grants.

Over the past 20 years, researchers have found isotopic
anomalies in nitrogen and hydrogen from IDPs but never before in
carbon. Floss said one of the reasons for this was the
limitations of earlier instruments. She and her colleagues used
a new type of ion microprobe called the NanoSIMS, which enables
researchers to analyze particles at much greater spatial
resolution and higher sensitivity than before. Until recently,
ion probes could only measure the average properties of an IDP.
In 2000, with help from NASA and the National Science
Foundation, the University bought the first commercially
available NanoSIMS. Made by Cameca in Paris, the NanoSIMS can
resolve particles as small as 100 nanometers in diameter. A
hundred thousand such particles side-by-side would make a
centimeter. Typical sub-grains in IDPs range from 100 nanometers
to 500 nanometers.

"The question has always been: Why don't we see any unusual
carbon isotopic compositions?" Floss said. "The thinking was if
the nitrogen and hydrogen isotopic anomalies are formed in the
same regions of space, it was logical to expect unusual carbon
isotopic compositions as well. One school of thought was that
there were different fractionation processes with carbon in
opposite directions, that cancelled out any anomalies produced.
Another possibility was that the nitrogen and hydrogen might
have been produced in phases that weren't originally organic --
that the organic material itself was formed in the solar system
and basically inherited the hydrogen and nitrogen isotopic
compositions from some precursor material. But our isotopic
analysis shows that the organic material was formed before the
Solar System existed and was later incorporated into the IDP."

Floss and Frank Stadermann, Ph.D., Washington University senior
research scientist in Physics, worked with colleagues at
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in drawing their

"A lot of IDPs come from comets," Floss said. "It makes sense
that organic material would be preserved in a very cold
environment, such as where comets form at the edge of the Solar
System. For something to stay this pristine and primitive, one
can assume that it came from that kind of environment."

Floss said it's estimated that, over a million years, about a
centimeter of carbonaceous material comes in the form of such
cosmic dust and a significant amount of that material may be
presolar in origin.

Floss said that her work builds on the pioneering work of the
late Robert Walker, Ph.D., professor of Physics at Washington
University. Walker was instrumental in the acquisition of the
NanoSIMS and in the 1980s made landmark studies verifying the
extraterrestrial origin of such stratospheric dust particles.

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