In 2006, a NASA spacecraft returned to Earth with samples that scientists hoped might contain cosmic dust, a byproduct of star formation. They let the public look for the elusive particles online. A squinting citizen might have just found one.
The particles in question are pieces of interstellar dust, a substance containing atoms formed during the birthing of the sun and our neighbouring planets. Don Brownlee, a researcher at the University of Washington, likens the dust to a “library of what was in the early solar system.”
You would assume that the first cosmic dust would be discovered in a laboratory by some crazy-haired scientist, but the distinction may go to a Canadian man named Bruce Hudson. Hudson was a participant in [email protected], a program that anyone with an internet connection use a virtual microscope to scour the samples for these particular particles. Scientists are currently analysing Hudson’s find and are “cautiously optimistic” that it is the first cosmic dust ever to be returned to Earth.
If Hudson’s particle is indeed interstellar dust, the discovery could give unprecedented insight into the formation of our solar system and the processes by which our universe recycles its materials. It also goes to show that armchair astronomers can really make significant scientific contributions.