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A team of scientists at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., has successfully reproduced, right here on Earth, the processes that occur in the atmosphere of a red giant star and lead to the formation of planet-forming interstellar dust.
Using a specialized facility, called the Cosmic Simulation Chamber (COSmIC) designed and built at Ames, scientists now are able to recreate and study in the laboratory dust grains similar to the grains that form in the outer layers of dying stars. Scientists plan to use the dust to gather clues to better understand the composition and the evolution of the universe.
Dust grains that form around dying stars and are ejected into the interstellar medium lead, after a life cycle spanning millions of years, to the formation of planets and are a key component of the universe’s evolution. Scientists have found the materials that make up the building blocks of the universe are much more complicated than originally anticipated.
“The harsh conditions of space are extremely difficult to reproduce in the laboratory, and have long hindered efforts to interpret and analyze observations from space,” said Farid Salama, project leader and a space science researcher at Ames. “Using the COSmIC simulator we can now discover clues to questions about the composition and the evolution of the universe, both major objectives of NASA’s space research program.