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Spacecraft captures dust from interstellar wind

Particles giving clues to composition of space beyond solar system

11:19am, February 1, 2012

A particle-gobbling probe has snared some alien travelers: tiny particles from interstellar space that, after being born from the ashes of an exploding star, breached a protective bubble blown by the sun and sailed into the jaws of the awaiting spacecraft.

“These are some first observations of interstellar material, really alien matter,” Dave McComas, a principal investigator for NASA’s Interstellar Boundary Explorer spacecraft, or IBEX, said January 31 in a NASA press conference announcing the findings. “This alien interstellar material is really the stuff that stars and planets and people — all of us — are made of,” said McComas, of the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio.

The spacecraft captured and measured levels of oxygen, hydrogen and neon plucked from puffs of material blown into the solar system. Early analyses of those gases are helping scientists place the solar system in space and define its bubbly sh

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