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NASA Finds Interstellar Matter From Beyond Our Solar System

Soulskill posted more than 2 years ago | from the we're-made-of-star-stuff dept.

Space 75

An anonymous reader writes "For the very first time, a NASA spacecraft has detected matter from outside our solar system — material that came from elsewhere in the galaxy. This so-called interstellar material was spotted by NASA's Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX), a spacecraft that is studying the edge of the solar system from its orbit about 200,000 miles (322,000 kilometers) above Earth. 'This alien interstellar material is really the stuff that stars and planets and people are made of — it's really important to be measuring it,' said David McComas, IBEX principal investigator."

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75 comments

Looks like a job for Captain Obvious... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38889491)

Interstellar matter found between stars!

Re:Looks like a job for Captain Obvious... (-1, Flamebait)

zoomshorts (137587) | more than 2 years ago | (#38889673)

Agreed, WOW, interstellar stuff in Interstellar space. Slashdot the Universe!!! Niggers!!!

Re:Looks like a job for Captain Obvious... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38890213)

Captain Redundant.

Same atoms (4, Interesting)

Lord Lode (1290856) | more than 2 years ago | (#38889495)

What makes this material different from that of our solar system? It's got the same kind of atoms. And why do they say *that* material is what we're made from? As far as I'm aware, we're made from the material of *our* solar system, not that of another.

Re:Same atoms (5, Informative)

SJHillman (1966756) | more than 2 years ago | (#38889511)

I think the idea is that most of the atoms we're made up of originate from before our solar system was formed. During the creation of our solar system, the matter was compressed, condensed, ignited or otherwise changed from how it existed as an interstellar gas and so doesn't exist in the same way anymore. It's not so much that we're interested in the individual atoms as we are in the collection of the interstellar material.

Re:Same atoms (5, Informative)

DaPhil (811162) | more than 2 years ago | (#38889609)

It seems the point is that "matter outside our solar system [...] seems to be deficient in oxygen compared to neon." (from TFA). The newly found matter seems to be distributed differently: 74 oxygen atoms for every 20 neon atoms compared to 111 oxygen atoms for every 20 neon atoms within the solar system. I still don't understand the "material what we're mad from" part...

Re:Same atoms (5, Informative)

JATMON (995758) | more than 2 years ago | (#38890061)

I still don't understand the "material what we're mad from" part...

It has been a while since I took astronomy so I am sure that I will get some corrections, but I will give it a shot.

Right after the big bang, the universe was mostly made of of just hydorgen and helinm. Most of the rest of the elements are produced by stars. During its life and depending on how big the star is, the fusion process in the star can produce elements up to iron (I think). When the larger stars (I think it is about 10 times the size of our sun and greater) die, they go supernova. This explosive process produces the heavier elements and also dstributes them back out into the universe and in time they become the stars and planets in other solar systems like ours. So we are made from the remnents of dead stars.

Let the corrections begin :)

Requested correction (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38921053)

Stellar fusion produces elements up to lead, if I am not mistaken.

Re:Same atoms (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38891057)

And they can tell, because with such a high proportion of neon atoms, it glows. Kinda like early 90's spandex.

Re:Same atoms (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38894269)

I still don't understand the "material what we're mad from" part...

Me neither, as the stuff I get mad from is from no celestial body other than Earth ...

Re:Same atoms (4, Insightful)

hairyfeet (841228) | more than 2 years ago | (#38890151)

Shouldn't you be able to find that material in abundance in the comets that go whizzing by as well as the great Oort cloud? Don't get me wrong, i'm really digging the "Small hard science missions" that NASA is focusing on I'm just trying to understand what makes THIS particular matter all that different from the stuff trapped all around us that didn't get sucked into any planetary formation.

But if any NASA guys are here just let me say a big thumbs up, don't let the clueless try to drag you back into shooting meatbags into LEO, frankly you are giving us more hard science about how the universe works in a single one of these probes than in all the LEO missions the shuttle ever did. So keep sending the probes and if congress tries to screw you be sure to send a heads up to all the geek sites, we'll back you up. This is good work you are doing, and all the data your many probes are sending back will expand our knowledge of the solar system for decades. i know you guys don't hear this enough anymore since probes aren't sexy, but thanks for all the hard work and hard science you are giving us.

Re:Same atoms (1)

Hentes (2461350) | more than 2 years ago | (#38889607)

There are heavy elements that the Sun doesn't contain.

Re:Same atoms (3, Informative)

mbone (558574) | more than 2 years ago | (#38890085)

There are heavy elements that the Sun doesn't contain.

Not really, except for the short-lived heavy radionuclides. Even Uranium [ou.edu] has been seen in solar spectra.

Re:Same atoms (1)

janimal (172428) | more than 2 years ago | (#38889783)

That's the question that came to my mind (and one the other replies do not address). How do you know you are dealing with interstellar dust? It's not the oxygen to neon density, that's just a clue. It might mean you're flying though a differently concentrated part of the solar system. TFA does not seem to say this. I'm inferring that it might be because the probe is able to catch dust coming from a specific direction.

Re:Same atoms (5, Informative)

dkf (304284) | more than 2 years ago | (#38889853)

You know you're dealing with something from outside the solar system because within the solar system, the solar wind (hot, fast-moving plasma) blows all diffuse material out very rapidly. If there's a large amount of material out at the edge of where we believe the boundary to be between the domain dominated by solar wind and the domain dominated by the rest of the galaxy, and that material has a composition not seen within the solar system, we can have as a very strong guess that its extra-solar. Anything else really is much less probable.

Which isn't to say that it is of the same composition as the gas+dust cloud that formed the solar system. That's long gone and the solar system has moved a lot since then.

Re:Same atoms (4, Informative)

jamvger (2526832) | more than 2 years ago | (#38891237)

The entire solar system condensed from the same rotating, swirling cloud. So the ratios of the elements are pretty consistent throughout. There do exist some differentiating processes, e.g. heavy atoms sink to the interior of planets, but the starting ratios for all parts of the cloud were the same.

The incoming stream seen by IBEX has a O/Ne ratio falling significantly outside of the range expected for gasses of solar system origin.

Re:Same atoms (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38889863)

I believe the "interesting" part is measuring the composition of the material, that is, the ratio between the different elements and if there are any interesting molecules there, like 'organic' chemicals. Of course, it doesn't mean all other interstellar stuff has the same composition, it's just interesting to compare this specimen to other solar-system based chunks.

Re:Same atoms (3, Interesting)

gmrath (751453) | more than 2 years ago | (#38889969)

How does this spacecraft find "interstellar matter from beyond our solar system" at a distance of 200,000 miles above the Earth while the Voyagers have found what at how many billions of miles from the sun? Differences in instrumentation? Wouldn't one expect any remaining interstellar matter to be cleared by the solar wind long ago given the range of 200 kMiles? Just asking.

Re:Same atoms (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38890089)

Pretty sure the spacecraft is 200k above the Earth. Reading comprehension is a power I possess.

And yes, differences in instrumentation in regards to Voyager.

Re:Same atoms (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38891403)

What makes this material different from that of our solar system?

Didn't you watch SG-1? Everyone knows that Naquadah is available in other systems, but not ours.

Re:Same atoms (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38891495)

Exactly. That's why the delusional Space Mining Nutters have yet to justify any of their fantasies. There's nothing out there that we don't have here in ridiculously easier to obtain form.

(And now, observe the backlash from completely psychotic religious Space Nutters.)

Re:Same atoms (2)

jamstar7 (694492) | more than 2 years ago | (#38892851)

Actually, no. Getting to some of those 'ridiculously easier to obtain' resources isn't as easy as you think.

The Earth's crust is mostly iron. You'd think then iron was easy to come by. It's all bound up in different chemical compounds that are hard to work with, expensive to refine, and polluting as all hell to deal with. Regions like the Mesabi Range in Minnesota have iron that's almost pure, relatively easier to work with. The problem is, places like the Mesabi Range are fairly rare.

Meteoric evidence suggests asteroidal iron to be even purer, and a lot easier to work with.

Re:Same atoms (1)

ae1294 (1547521) | more than 2 years ago | (#38893837)

What makes this material different from that of our solar system? It's got the same kind of atoms. And why do they say *that* material is what we're made from? As far as I'm aware, we're made from the material of *our* solar system, not that of another.

I want to know how it gained access to our celestial spheres and if it will do damage to the quintessence.... [wikipedia.org]

Re:Same atoms (1)

SpongeBob Hitler (1848328) | more than 2 years ago | (#38897549)

And why do they say *that* material is what we're made from? As far as I'm aware, we're made from the material of *our* solar system, not that of another.

Yeah, we certainly don't want any o' them thar furrin' atoms 'round here!

Its alien ... (1)

XrayJunkie (2437814) | more than 2 years ago | (#38889523)

... so shoot it down.

Re:Its alien ... (4, Funny)

WillerZ (814133) | more than 2 years ago | (#38889785)

No need to shoot it. I have a Mac: I'll upload a virus to take care of it.

Re:Its alien ... (1)

tanujt (1909206) | more than 2 years ago | (#38891079)

No need to shoot it. I have a Mac: I'll upload a virus to take care of it.

I'll help you by making a GUI in VB to track it down quickly.

Re:Its alien ... (1)

axlr8or (889713) | more than 2 years ago | (#38899277)

Can you do this, while running from a velociraptor while toting an interracial child. Hah, I think not.

SJHillman ( above ) makes an interesting point... (2)

vikingpower (768921) | more than 2 years ago | (#38889555)

...besides there being the possibility of molecules, in that stuff, we do not ( yet ) know. This stuff may, indeed, be more important than cynics deign to think.

Oh boy! Star Stuff! (3, Funny)

stevegee58 (1179505) | more than 2 years ago | (#38889619)

Carl Sagan would be so happy!

Re:Oh boy! Star Stuff! (1)

jamstar7 (694492) | more than 2 years ago | (#38892929)

As has been pointed out elsewhere, we're all star stuff. (Cue really cool B5 Year 2 ref here). I've found it entertaining to explain this to interested people, especially when I follow it up by asking, "So, how does it feel to be nuclear waste?"

Re:Oh boy! Star Stuff! (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 2 years ago | (#38893935)

Do you know who Carl Sagan is? Seriously, pulling out a B5 reference after someone has referenced the source is really weak sauce.

As opposed to interstellar matter from our system (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38889641)

So THAT is what interstellar means... is there an echo in the title?

Space.com SUCKS (-1, Troll)

Required Snark (1702878) | more than 2 years ago | (#38889713)

Why is anyone linking to space.com? The first thing I saw was a splash screen for "Publishers Clearing House" and I had to click on it to see the article. This is not appropriate for a Slashdot link for a story. Get your act together and find a legitimate web site, not some sleazy link farm. "News for Nerds" does not include page hits for misleading scams that have a business model based on enticing suckers by offering a "big cash prize". What's next, an iPad for $10?

Grammar police: (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38889721)

Do you have a license for wielding that pleonasm?

I detect matter outside the Solar Sys all the time (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38889749)

Just look up on a clear night. See all those stars? Every single one of them is outside the solar system!

Re:I detect matter outside the Solar Sys all the t (2)

piripiri (1476949) | more than 2 years ago | (#38889849)

How could it be interstellar? You know, "inter" as in "between"...

Re:I detect matter outside the Solar Sys all the t (2)

Moraelin (679338) | more than 2 years ago | (#38890091)

How could it be interstellar? You know, "inter" as in "between"...

Yes, it's between the Sun and some stars even farther back :p

Nonsense (1, Funny)

Moraelin (679338) | more than 2 years ago | (#38890159)

Just look up on a clear night. See all those stars? Every single one of them is outside the solar system!

Nonsense. Genesis 1 clearly states

6. And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.

7. And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so.

8. And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.

[...]

14. And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years:

15. And let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth: and it was so.

16. And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also.

17. And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth,

So clearly the sky is a dome dividing the waters below from the water above, and the sun and the stars are set on/in it. All this talk of space and great distances and things outside our system is just you science-y servants of Satan trying to test our faith ;)

Re:Nonsense (2)

geekoid (135745) | more than 2 years ago | (#38893981)

I wish your joke was nearly as bonkers as some poeple are seriously trying to do.

Did you know there is a group trying to get geocentrism taught in schools?

Seriously, they even have a ridiculousn model, and of course a rewrite of known physics, to support their belief.

If people don't like science, they shouldn't be allowed to participate in the discussion.

TBH it's not those who worry me the most (1)

Moraelin (679338) | more than 2 years ago | (#38900995)

TBH it's not those who worry me the most.

Sure, some people are stupid, and prefer to take an iron age fairy tale book for illiterate backwater tribes (even under the Romans, literacy in Palestine is estimated at 3%, and most of those in the cities) for 100% accurate, against all proof to the contrary. But at least they''re consistent about it, in their stupidity. They only have one premise they have to hang onto, to make that seem to make sense.

The ones I understand even less are those who are at least vaguely aware that some stuff isn't exactly true -- or needs some extensive editing and playing mad-libs with putting your own words into their sentence structure, under the guise of "what it REALLY meant" -- but still insist that the REST of it must be literally true and come from an omniscient source. Even though that source fucks up all over the place.

It seems to me like if some guy came at work to give one rules under the claimed authority of being the CEO's bestest buddy and knowing everything about him and the company, one would be at least a little skeptical. If the guy then gets the founding year (and even century) of the company wrong, and the position in the city wrong (or for that matter doesn't know there's a city around it at all), and generally gets a dozen things awfully wrong even in one sitting, then everyone would think "what a poser" and be at least vaguely aware that everything else he says might be wrong too.

But here we have a bunch of guys who had hallucinations... err... "visions" (no, really, Paul for example even says so, plus it's more than once in the OT that that's how God talks to prophets) and get a lot of stuff awfully wrong. Yet even people aware that it gets the timescale of creation wrong, and talks about events that blatantly didn't happen and nobody else heard about (e.g., Matthew's zombie invasion or the physically impossible 3 hour eclipse on a full moon), and stuff where you have to take some illiterate goat-herder's word that the proven and tested laws of physics got raped six ways to sunday over the guys who have evidence (e.g., the flood, the braking the Earth so the Sun stands still in the sky, etc), and the supposedly omniscient God doesn't know the basic biology of those he created (e.g., Jesus ranting that you don't have to wash your hands and dishes before eating, because everything that goes into your mouth is destroyed anyway, or his thinking that by worrying about your body and what you eat you can't add even an hour to your life)... still go basically "that was... err... metaphor. But the rest of it? It's all literally true."

Jesus Christ, how can one know that a text told lies in dozens of places and still take it on faith that, no, see, everything else is literally true? They say that the definition of insanity is trying the same thing ten times and expecting different results. Well here we have dozens of places where people tried to find unerring truth in a text, and it turned out to be a falsehood. How insane does one need to be to keep trying?

Re:TBH it's not those who worry me the most (1)

hazah (807503) | more than 2 years ago | (#38902789)

The problem with your assesment, my friend... Is that you use logic.

Not "first time", misleading linked article (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38889977)

This is not the first time matter from outside the solar system is sampled. Here's what NASA said in the press release:

"...Previous spacecraft have already provided some information about the way the galactic wind interacts with the heliosheath. Ulysses, for one, observed incoming helium as it traveled past Jupiter and measured it traveling at 59,000 miles per hour. IBEX's new information, however, shows the galactic wind traveling not only at a slower speed -- around 52,000 miles per hour -- but from a different direction, most likely offset by some four degrees from previous measurements. Such a difference may not initially seem significant, but it amounts to a full 20% difference in how much pressure the galactic wind exerts on the heliosphere."

http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/ibex/news/interstellar-difference.html

Important (-1, Offtopic)

ThatsNotPudding (1045640) | more than 2 years ago | (#38890001)

'This alien interstellar material is really the stuff that stars and planets and people are made of - it's really important to be measuring it,'

Spoken like a man with a living wage and bitchin' health insurance.

Re:Important (1)

Dishevel (1105119) | more than 2 years ago | (#38892403)

And that was spoken like a man that fully believes that if you can feel good about it there is nothing wrong with just taking other peoples shit.

Re:Important (3)

geekoid (135745) | more than 2 years ago | (#38894003)

You want a living wage and health insurance? then support science. All the tech jobs, every electron you command, ever ounce of fuel you consume, exists because of science.

So it's really important to do all kinds of science.

Re:Important (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38894327)

Including life extension?

Press Release Mania (5, Insightful)

mbone (558574) | more than 2 years ago | (#38890029)

Where to start. First, go out at night - all those little dots in the sky ? They're called stars, and are all outside our solar system. (This has been known, depending on your point of view, for at least 400 years, and probably for 2 or more millennia.)

Second, it is pretty common for meteorites contain little inclusions of interstellar matter - organic matter [hawaii.edu], silica [hawaii.edu], and even (really tiny) diamonds [nature.com]. And, while we are at it, a certain fraction of the micro-meteors observed with radar (to get their orbits) turn out to be interstellar [mps.mpg.de] as well. (The fraction of interstellar micro-meteors suggests that there may be a few kg-sized interstellar meteorites waiting to be picked up out of the thousands in the Antarctic meteorite fields, which would be something.)

So, this is nice research, but it is only the first in its area, and it was silly of them to say "for the very first time."

Redundant (2)

necro81 (917438) | more than 2 years ago | (#38890363)

NASA Finds Interstellar Matter From Beyond Our Solar System

If it is from beyond our solar system, it is, by definition, interstellar.

Re:Redundant (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38890553)

Not exactly. Stellar material can be local to other stars or part of other stars and are therefore not interstellar. Things beyond our solar system are extrastellar. Some are interstellar, some are not.

Re:Redundant (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38890679)

Nevertheless: all interstellar matter is from beyond our solar system.
So: yeah, pleonasm.

Re:Redundant (2)

Fned (43219) | more than 2 years ago | (#38893795)

Nevertheless: all interstellar matter is from beyond our solar system.

Except, fairly soon, for the Voyager spacecraft.

Re:Redundant (1)

CrimsonAvenger (580665) | more than 2 years ago | (#38891329)

NASA Finds Interstellar Matter From Beyond Our Solar System

If it is from beyond our solar system, it is, by definition, interstellar.

Alpha Centauri (the star) is from beyond our solar system. It is NOT "interstellar".

Re:Redundant (1)

idontgno (624372) | more than 2 years ago | (#38891905)

"Interstellar matter found WITHIN our Solar System" would be unexpected. "Interstellar matter found outside our Solar System" is redundant, for plain (non-jargon, non-specialist) meanings of the phrase "interstellar matter".

"Ocean water found outside Hawaii" is unsurprising and redundant. "Ocean water found inside Hawaii" would be somewhat surprising (discounting wave action). "If it's beyond Hawaii, it is, by definition, ocean" is overgeneralized.

GPP overgeneralized and missed the point a bit, but the naive redundancy is still there. Where would you, by definition, expect interstellar matter? In extra-solar-system space.

Re:Redundant (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38892687)

I think you just revolutionized the concept of the pedantic douche. Congratulations?

Cosmic Rays (2)

crunchygranola (1954152) | more than 2 years ago | (#38890589)

High energy cosmic rays originate outside of the solar system, which has been known for many decades. Some of them are even intergalactic - having energies so high that the galactic magnetic field of the Milky Way cannot trap them.

stuff (1)

kimvette (919543) | more than 2 years ago | (#38890849)

"the stuff that stars and planets and people are made of"

I think we have a word for it: "matter."

Re:stuff (1)

jamstar7 (694492) | more than 2 years ago | (#38893009)

"the stuff that stars and planets and people are made of"

I think we have a word for it: "matter."

Sh!!! They're dumbing it down for the Neocons.

Um... Where? (1)

Greyfox (87712) | more than 2 years ago | (#38891125)

You mean, outside our solar system? Funnily enough, I think that's where I'd start looking if I were looking for interstellar matter! If they found it, say, under the sofa in the astronaut's lounge, that would be another thing entirely!

Isn't it all really interstellar matter though? For the same reason that the population of the Universe is 0! If you divide the amount of matter in our solar system by the amount of matter NOT in our solar system, the number is close enough to be zero that it may as well actually be zero! That's also my reasoning for why everything must be an illusion since we all live on average for 0 years! Hah!

Bunk! Junk! and more FUD (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38892345)

More Arsenic Life forms? LOL. Absolute Obama Science at its worst.

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