Researchers trace galactic history in ancient grains of alien sand

The new work lays out the most accurate ages of the alien sand grains yet, the reward for a painstaking re-analysis of data from an older batch of grains alongside fresh research on a previously unstudied grain group. A few specks seem to have drifted alone for billions of years, but most of the dust particles appear to have spent mere millions of years bathed in cosmic rays—as if something spit them all out into space all at once, shortly before they helped form the solar system. This apparent spike in dust abundance supports astronomical evidence for a modest “baby boom” in star formation, the researchers suggest, which may have taken place around seven billion years ago. These stars spat out plumes of dust when they died a few billion years later, seeding the area with the material that would, in short order, become our solar system.

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