Comet dust reveals Jupiter secrets

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HONOLULU, March 1 (UPI) — U.S. scientists say studies of tiny grains of a comet brought to Earth in 2006 have revealed clues that help date the formation of the planet Jupiter.

Researchers at the University of Hawaii said particles from comet 81P/Wild 2 returned to Earth by NASA’s Stardust spacecraft indicate Jupiter formed more than three million years after the formation of the first solids in our Solar System.

The findings suggest the formation of this giant planet affected how materials in the early solar system moved, collided, and coalesced during the complex planet-forming process, a university release reported.

Analyses of the Wild 2 samples showed comets are composed of both low-temperature and high-temperature materials that must have come from completely different environments.

Scientists said they wanted to know how high-temperature objects from the innermost regions near the Sun became the predominant dust components of an icy comet in the outer solar nebula and set out to determine when this grand, outward migration of materials occurred.

“We were surprised to find such a late-forming, high-temperature little rock in these cometary samples,” researcher Ryan Ogliore said.

“That we are able to test theories about the formation time of Jupiter and consequently, the origins of our Solar System is really a testament to the importance of sample-return missions like Stardust.”

Spencer Cameron