A magnified grain of cosmic dust, set against the South Pole sky.
Cosmic Dust
Ninety-nine percent of the material in the Universe is hydrogen and helium. Some of that is locked up in stars but the vast portion floats in the spaces that lay between them. Because the distances between stellar bodies is huge, the density of this material is exceedingly thin but some of it is shepherded by gravity and exploding stars into enormous nebulous clouds, often stretching thousands of light-years, to eventually spawn new stars under the right conditions.
The remaining percentage of material in space is comprised of cosmic dust. This dust is exceptionally small- much smaller that our Earth-bound namesake that is typically fine bits of fabric, dirt, or dead skin cells. These tiny, irregularly shaped particles range from less than 1/100th of a micron to 10 microns in size- a micron is only one millionth of a meter. For comparison, a particle of smoke is about 1/10th of a micron large.  Cosmic dust is comprised of carbon compounds and additional materials that include silicon, oxygen, nitrogen, nickel and, most likely, other heavy elements. Because of its carbon content, this cosmic fluff has been compared to diamond dust- it stretches the imagination, but the universe is, in fact, filled with this stuff!  Cosmic dust originates from red giant stars and titanic supernova explosions , although there are other sources. It’s created when material from a dying star is expelled into surrounding space as grains of heavy elements that coalesce into a cloud of debris.
Credit: J. Freitag and S. Messenger/ R. Jay GaBany

A magnified grain of cosmic dust, set against the South Pole sky.

Cosmic Dust

Ninety-nine percent of the material in the Universe is hydrogen and helium. Some of that is locked up in stars but the vast portion floats in the spaces that lay between them. Because the distances between stellar bodies is huge, the density of this material is exceedingly thin but some of it is shepherded by gravity and exploding stars into enormous nebulous clouds, often stretching thousands of light-years, to eventually spawn new stars under the right conditions.

The remaining percentage of material in space is comprised of cosmic dust. This dust is exceptionally small- much smaller that our Earth-bound namesake that is typically fine bits of fabric, dirt, or dead skin cells. These tiny, irregularly shaped particles range from less than 1/100th of a micron to 10 microns in size- a micron is only one millionth of a meter. For comparison, a particle of smoke is about 1/10th of a micron large.

Cosmic dust is comprised of carbon compounds and additional materials that include silicon, oxygen, nitrogen, nickel and, most likely, other heavy elements. Because of its carbon content, this cosmic fluff has been compared to diamond dust- it stretches the imagination, but the universe is, in fact, filled with this stuff!

Cosmic dust originates from red giant stars and titanic supernova explosions , although there are other sources. It’s created when material from a dying star is expelled into surrounding space as grains of heavy elements that coalesce into a cloud of debris.

Credit: J. Freitag and S. Messenger/ R. Jay GaBany


Posted 1 year ago with 507 notes
Tagged:Astronomyastrophysicsastrobiologycosmic dustspacesciencecosmos

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