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Artist's version of the ACE spacecraft.
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Courtesy of NASA

Flying Atoms?
News story originally written on June 4, 1999

Scientists have found a possible source of the high speed atoms flying through space in the form of cosmic rays. These atoms reach velocities close to the speed of light. It was known that the source of the energy that causes the high speeds is a supernova, or exploding star. However, the exact source of the actual atoms was unknown until now.

Using an instrument aboard NASA's Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE), scientists are able to investigate the cosmic rays, and have come up with some surprising results. NASA scientists now believe the atoms are pieces of dust and gas already in space, being pushed through by the explosions.

Scientists know that a certain type of Nickel decays over time. They found atoms that have been decaying for 100,000 years. In order to decay, Nickel atoms have to be stationary. It is impossible for the atoms to be going the speed of light and decay at the same time. Scientists conclude the atoms must be made of gas and dust that was already in space.

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Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part is sponsored in part through grants from federal agencies (NASA and NOAA), and partnerships with affiliated organizations, including the American Geophysical Union, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Earth System Information Partnership, the American Meteorological Society, the National Center for Science Education, and TERC. The American Geophysical Union and the American Geosciences Institute are Windows to the Universe Founding Partners. NESTA welcomes new Institutional Affiliates in support of our ongoing programs, as well as collaborations on new projects. Contact NESTA for more information. NASA ESIP NCSE HHMI AGU AGI AMS NOAA