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Imperial College London researchers find fossilised cosmic dust in White Cliffs of Dover

By Sam Lennon

Scientists have found fossilised space dust in the White Cliffs of Dover.

The breakthrough means that this could provide new information about the early solar system.

The find of cosmic dust was made by researchers from Imperial College London and detailed in the university’s news website yesterday.

Martin Suttle, a research postgraduate from the university’s department of earth, science and engineering, said: “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 exciting because we’ve now discovered that fossilised space dust is entombed alongside these creatures, which can also provide us with information about what happened in our solar system at the time.”

Details of the discovery were published in the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters.

Cosmic dust has been previously found in rocks up to 2.7 billion years old but it could only be studied if it was well preserved.

Mr Suttle says that this new study is significant because less well preserved fossilised dust can now also be located and examined in detail.

Scientists had never before known that Dover’s cliffs had this dust.

“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" - Martin Suttle

The researchers believe that this was overlooked because fossilisation masked the true identity of the particles.

But they found that this dust was in the chalk by spotting the distinctive spherical structures of the chalk samples and the Christmas tree-like shape of their crystal content.

Cosmic dust particles are a relatively recent record of events in the solar system.

Finding this new source, which is much older, could help scientists understand events beyond earth such as major collisions between asteroids.

These have happened as far back as around 98 million years ago.

Cosmic dust is literally dust from space and it’s everywhere.

It falls on the Earth’s surface at a rate of around six particles per square metre.

The amount landing on our planet depends on events such as collisions between asteroids and the influx of new comets.

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