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Supernova is a dust factory

Grains of matter spewed by explosion offer clues to early star formation

GATHERING DUST  Observations of dust (red) detected in the center of the debris from Supernova 1987A suggest that such stellar explosions may be a source of cosmic dust. Visible light (green) and X-ray (blue) images show the expanding shockwave from the supernova.

OXON HILL, Md. — The remnant of a recent supernova contains nearly a star’s mass of dust. The dust’s presence provides strong evidence that similar explosions distributed dust that seeded bursts of star formation billions of years ago.

For astronomers, dust is a bit different from the stuff on your dresser. Dust forms in space when searing-hot atoms of carbon, oxygen and silicon cool and clump together into solid grains as large as a thousandth of a centimeter across. These grains permeate the cosmos, serving as springboards for star formation and as surfaces on which other atoms combine into complex molecules, including the building blocks of life.

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