MISSING LINKS: The missing links in our cosmic dust storms are often the most exciting things in astronomy.
But the search for them has so far been fruitless.
“The big thing is that we have so many observations,” says David Brinton, an astronomer at the University of Arizona in Tucson.
“If we had one, we could find all the missing pieces.”
Brinton and his colleagues have looked for a single missing link that might tell us about the composition of cosmic dust.
In the past, the dust was thought to be made up mostly of helium, a key element in stars, and that was the only link between stars and the cosmos.
But since 2000, the Higgs boson has been discovered that may give us more information about the cosmic environment, says Brinton.
This new particle, which is made up of three subatomic particles, is thought to make up a lot of the dust.
A third particle, called a muon, is a kind of background noise, and the new particle is believed to be a source of the muon’s unusual properties.
The researchers looked for this third particle in the dust in 2008 and 2013.
“What we found was that the dust had a lot more muon,” says Brinner.
The muon in the new cosmic dust is also very bright, making it easier to see with the naked eye.
“That’s really important because it’s not just that it looks like a normal dust particle, but that it’s really bright,” says Brian Cox, an astrophysicist at the Carnegie Institution of Washington in Seattle.
“So that means that we could be seeing stars or galaxies with the muons in them.”
The team found the muON in a cloud of dust that had been blasted into space by the HEXAGON, the largest cosmic ray storm ever.
“We were pretty surprised,” says Cox.
“It’s so small.”
But the team was not able to tell the difference between the muoni and the other particles in the cosmic dust because the dust particles are so similar.
“I would say that the muony particles are not really interesting, but they’re probably important for something,” says Andrew Ritchie, an astrochemist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge.
He says that the results may offer a hint as to what happens to the dust after it reaches the space-time frontier.
“You’d think that you’d have some kind of way to track down these muon particles,” says Ritchie.
But, in a paper published this week in Science Advances, Brinton says that they have not found any way to actually track the muonal particles as they leave the cloud.
“They’re basically just a piece of dust,” says the team’s lead author, Chris Thorne of the University and Oxford Brookes University in London.
“And so the whole thing is really really difficult to study, really.”
But if the muonic particles did escape from the dust, they could give clues about the evolution of the cosmos that may help explain some of the missing bits.
“These particles could provide clues about how the cosmos came to be,” says Thorne.
“In particular, they would provide a clue about how dust behaves in the early universe.”
The dust particles may be in a class of cosmic particles called the quarks, which are the building blocks of everything from electrons to photons to protons.
But quarks are made up primarily of protons and electrons.
But when cosmic dust interacts with the gas that surrounds the universe, they produce a lot less quarks.
So if there were more quarks in the cloud of cosmic debris, it would mean there were fewer cosmic dust particles.
“This means that they’re all just cosmic dust that was expelled,” says Blanchard.
“But they’re not all quarks.”
“This could be an important discovery, and it’s a real shame that it has been overlooked,” says Tim Flannery, an astronomy professor at the National University of Singapore in Singapore.
“One of the things that’s really interesting is that they could be all the same kind of particles,” he adds.
“To me, that’s an interesting question.”
“It is the missing piece of the puzzle that allows us to make some predictions about the nature of the cosmic cosmos.”
The researchers have found evidence that cosmic dust in the Hexagon storm contained more muons than usual, suggesting that they may be more stable in space than the ordinary dust particles that would be produced in a normal cosmic storm.
But this does not mean that the particles are stable in the universe.
“There is no reason for that,” says Flannery.
“Any particles that are produced in the sky would have to be stable in a different universe than this one.”
The missing pieces could have a big impact on our understanding of the universe and its evolution.
“As we get closer to looking for these missing pieces, I think we’re