After the gas mixture was exposed to the mini space environment analogue, the researchers detected the production of tiny grains of dust that carry similar characteristics as the dust generated by dying stars. Using an electron scanning microscope, these primordial dust grains were studied (pictured top).
"During COSmIC experiments, we are able to form and detect nanoparticles on the order of 10 nanometers size, grains ranging from 100 to 500 nanometers and aggregates of grains up to 1.5 micrometers in diameter, about a tenth the width of a human hair, and observe their structure with SEM (Ames' Scanning Electron Microscope), thus sampling a large size distribution of the grains produced," said Ella Sciamma-O'Brien, of the BAER Institute and Ames research fellow.
In space, this dust becomes a critical part of the structure of the interstellar medium and, over millions to billions of years, accumulates around stars to form the building blocks of planets. Understanding planetary formation processes is becoming critical, especially during this ‘golden age' of exoplanetary science.