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Cosmic dust in White Cliffs of Dover could help unlock secrets of the solar system

PUBLISHED: 11:30 08 September 2017 | UPDATED: 12:18 08 September 2017

White Cliffs of Dover

White Cliffs of Dover

Thomas Quack

Remarkable find by experts at Imperial College London could spark host of key discoveries

White Cliffs of Dover - cosmic dust. Pictures: Imperial College London White Cliffs of Dover - cosmic dust. Pictures: Imperial College London

Scientists have discovered fossilised remains of cosmic dust within the White Cliffs of Dover which could provide vital clues as to the early solar system.

The discovery, published in the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters, follows work conducted by Martin Suttle, lead author and a research postgraduate from Imperial College London’s department of Earth science and engineering.

He explained: “The iconic White Cliffs of Dover are an important source of fossilised creatures that help us to determine the changes and upheavals the planet has undergone many millions of years ago. It is so exciting because we’ve now discovered that fossilised space dust is entombed alongside these creatures, which can also provide us with information about what was happening in our solar system at the time.”

In a separate report in the journal Geology, the team also revealed they’ve discovered a way of determining if cosmic dust was clay rich. Clays can only form if water is present, so a method for determining clay content could act like a cosmic diving rod for determining the presence of water rich asteroids in our solar system.

White Cliffs of Dover - cosmic dust. Pictures: Imperial College London White Cliffs of Dover - cosmic dust. Pictures: Imperial College London

Dr Matt Genge, lead author from the college. added: “In the distant future, asteroids could provide human space explorers with valuable stop offs during long voyages. Being able to source water is vital because it can be used to drink, to make oxygen and even fuel to power spacecraft. The relevance of our study is that cosmic dust particles that land on Earth could ultimately be used to trace where these water-rich asteroids may be, providing a valuable tool for mapping this resource.”

The college says cosmic dust has been previously found in rocks up to 2.7 billion years old. However, until now only cosmic dust that was very well preserved could be studied by researchers. The significance of the their new study says Mr Suttle is that less well preserved fossilised cosmic dust can now also be located and examined in detail.

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