Scientists have discovered an "alien" grain of dust that has survived the birth of our solar system.
The tiny speck of material found inside a meteorite in Antarctica is thought to have been created by a distant star when it was destroyed by a massive explosion.
The star died long before our Sun existed, and experts believe that the newly discovered fragment could shed light on how the Solar System was born.
That's because small grains of stellar dust are the major building materials in the birth of new stars and planets – as well as life as we know it.
"Like the real dust of the stars, these pre-solar grains give us insight into the building blocks from which our solar system has formed," said Pierre Haenecour, lead author of a new study on the discovery.
"They also provide us with a direct snapshot of the conditions in a star at the time this grain was formed."
The Antarctic meteorite was found and collected by NASA and later analyzed by scientists at the University of Toronto.
They used state-of-the-art microscopes to study the atoms that make up the space rock and found a small fragment containing a strange mixture of graphite and silicate grains.
It turns out that the tiny piece of material is stardust, which the scientists called LAP-149.
It is believed to have formed 4.5 billion years ago, following a violent death known as a supernova explosion.
Launched an unimaginable distance through the cosmos, the grain finally landed in the region where our solar system would later form, getting trapped in a primitive meteorite.
Interstellar trips like these are important for the formation of new star systems, scientists said.
They provide incipient worlds with chemical elements such as carbon and oxygen, helping to spread building blocks fundamental to life in distant corners of the galaxy.
The study provides new insights into the conditions of a dying star.
It also contradicts the longstanding belief that the two types of oxygen rich, carbon rich stellar dust – which are building blocks in the formation of a solar system – could not form in the same stellar explosion.
Scientists hope to study larger pieces of stellar dust in the future to get a better idea of how life began in our solar system.
"This type of research is part of a much bigger debate about how life began on Earth," said Jane Howe, a scientist at the University of Toronto.
"We all care about who we are and where we came from."
The research was published in Nature.
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In other space news, NASA chief Jim Bridentstine recently warned that a major asteroid attack on Earth could happen during our lifetime.
The space agency is currently preparing for the apocalypse with a five-day roleplay game.
And here is an incredible picture of space showing the exuberant Brittany shining in the blue sea.
Are there any good tips for the stars? Let us know in the comments!
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