Dust from a comet has been discovered on the Earth’s surface for the first time, locked inside the ancient ice sheet that covers Antarctica.
The discovery is expected to reveal new clues about how our solar system formed as scientists study the tiny comet particles more closely.
Researchers found the comet dust after drilling almost 58 feet (17 metres) into the Antarctic snow at a place called Tottuki Point, around 10 miles north of the Japanese Syowa Research Station.
After melting the ice they discovered thousands of particles measuring from the size of a grain of talcum powder to the width of a human hair.
They were initially thought to be the remains of meteorites that have broken up in the Earth’s atmosphere in the past.
However, when scientists examined 40 of the particles more closely, they found they were identical to the kind of material that has been gathered from comets, known as chondritic porous interplanetary dust particles.
The discovery is considered to be particularly surprising because the highly porous fragments are extremely fragile and were not thought to be able to survive Earth’s weather.
To find them on one of the harshest environments in the planet is perhaps even more surprising, but it was probably the extreme cold that helped to preserve them, trapping them in the ice.