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Evidence for a significant Kuiper belt dust contribution to the zodiacal cloud


Interplanetary dust particles are important samples of dust-producing objects in the Solar System, including many primitive and organic-rich bodies that are not sampled by known meteorites. Interplanetary dust particles spiral in towards the Sun under the influence of Poynting–Robertson drag forces and are exposed to solar energetic particles that leave tracks of ionization damage in anhydrous silicate grains. Here we determine the exposure ages of track-rich interplanetary dust particles using a new calibration of the solar energetic particle track production rate and show that track-rich interplanetary dust particles have long exposure ages (>1 Myr) that preclude an origin from main-belt asteroids and Jupiter-family comets. We propose that track-rich interplanetary dust particles represent samples of dust produced by collisions among Edgeworth–Kuiper belt objects and that appreciable amounts of Edgeworth–Kuiper belt object dust contribute to the zodiacal cloud. Many track-rich interplanetary dust particles also contain abundant secondary minerals that provide direct evidence for past aqueous activity on some Edgeworth–Kuiper belt objects.

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Fig. 1: SEP tracks in a pyroxene grain.
Fig. 2: Distribution of track densities.

Data availability

The data are provided in the article and the Supplementary Information.


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We thank CAPTEM and the JSC Astromaterials Curation Facility for allocating the IDP samples used in this study. The electron microscopy was performed in the Electron Beam Analysis Labs at the NASA Johnson Space Center. This work was supported in part by the Johnson Space Center Coordinated Analysis Work Package to L.P.K. funded by the NASA Internal Scientist Funding Model, and grant NNX19AE59G from the NASA Emerging Worlds programme to G.J.F.

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L.P.K. measured track densities and wrote parts of the manuscript, G.J.F. preformed the track density calculations and wrote parts of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Lindsay P. Keller.

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Nature Astronomy thanks Andrew Poppe and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Supplementary text and Figs. 1–27.

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Keller, L.P., Flynn, G.J. Evidence for a significant Kuiper belt dust contribution to the zodiacal cloud. Nat Astron 6, 731–735 (2022).

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