A fireball fell out of the sky in 1969 and struck near the town of Murchison, Australia, in the state of Victoria. That meteorite brought with it material that predates the formation of our solar system by billions of years.
Scientists analyzed the debris and found that the oldest of 40 tiny dust grains trapped inside the meteorite fragments dated from about 7 billion years ago. That would be almost 2.5 billion years before our sun and solar system was formed.
The scientists estimate that all of the dust pre-dates our solar system, with most between 4.6 and 4.9 billion years old.
Philipp Heck, an associate curator at the Field Museum in Chicago who led the research published in the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, said:
“I find this extremely exciting. Despite having worked on the Murchison meteorite and presolar grains for almost 20 years, I still am fascinated that we can study the history of our galaxy with a rock.”
The researchers detected the tiny grains inside the meteorite by crushing fragments of the rock and then segregating the component parts in a paste they described as smelling like rotten peanut butter.
Scientists determine stardust’s age by estimating how long it has been subjected to cosmic rays.
The oldest-known minerals that formed on Earth are found in rock from Australia’s Jack Hills that formed 4.4 billion years ago, 100 million years after the planet formed.