Fastest Spinning DustSmall specks of dust found in our Milky Way galaxy are the fastest twirlers yet—spinning more than ten billion times a second, astronomers announced today.

Scientists found the tiny grains—each just 10 to 50 atoms wide—using the recently launched European Space Agency’s Planck spacecraft. That solves the mystery of a diffuse microwave “fog” in our galaxy that’s puzzled astronomers for decades.

The odd radiation has long been associated with dense, dusty clouds between stars, but its exact source was unclear.

According to the Planck team, the new data suggest that some dust particles in these interstellar clouds are constantly colliding with fast-moving atoms and ultraviolet light.

The nonstop bombardments set the grains spinning, and their ultra fast rotation causes the grains to glow at much higher microwave frequencies than dust found elsewhere in the universe.

Understanding the different behaviors of space dust could help astronomers figure out exactly how stars and planets begin to take shape, said Planck team member Peter Martin.

“Most of the heavier elements that eventually go into building planets—and even you and me—spent most of their life in this universe as dust particles,” said Martin, a professor of astronomy at the University of Toronto.

“Planck is giving us some of the most detailed surveys of our galaxy’s gas and dust structure and distribution, which we think can give us hints to the birthing process of stars and even the way galaxies like ours can form.”

continue reading: National Geographic