A supernova occurs when a star explodes and produces clouds or gas and dust enriched with radioisotopes. Some of that dust from one or more stars, according to the study, fell to Earth sometime in the last 20 million years. Now it's been found in the snow taken from the sparsely inhabited continent.
"I'm really hungry and happy to actually see something that traveled billions of billions of kilometers through space and is millions of years old," said Dominic Koll, a nuclear astrophysicist who led the discovery and co-authored the study. "
Koll told CNN that researchers made the discovery after shipping 500 kg (about 1,100 pounds) of snow from Antarctica to a research facility in Munich, Germany.
] The researchers selected the remote area precisely because it is largely untouched. They chose to test snow because "it is the purest material you can find," Koll said.
The snow was melted down and sifted through. The materials tested in it were incinerated and tested using equipment sensitive enough to detect anomalies.
The tests tested positive for iron-60.
However, it's unclear whether the Earth is currently in a dust cloud or if the discovery is of the remnants of a cloud that passed years ago, Koll said.
Regardless, the finding could yield clues about the Earth's place in the larger universe and information on the structure and origin of the cloud.
"You learn quite a lot about the dynamics, about the solar neighborhood," Koll said. "It means all our understanding about the process and dynamics, that it all fits together."
Koll said the next step is to test deposits from older ice cores to find out when and where the supernova happened and when our solar system entered into the cloud of space dust.