The Curious Stardust At The Ocean Floor : Short Wave Researchers report in the journal Science that they appear to have some clues about the origin of Earth's plutonium - which has been long debated. Correspondent Nell Greenfieldboyce explains that traces of rare forms of iron and plutonium have been found in extraterrestrial debris that had sunk to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, hauled up by an oil company, then donated for research. By comparing the iron and the plutonium, scientists found the plutonium was likely forged in a cosmic cataclysm, perhaps a rare kind of supernova, and then rained down on Earth.

Ever find yourself existentially musing? Wondering about the state of the cosmos? Drop us a line at shortwave@npr.org and we might jump into a wormhole with you.

The Curious Stardust At The Ocean Floor

The Curious Stardust At The Ocean Floor

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Scientists believe some heavy elements like iron are forged when a massive star explodes as a supernova. Plutonium's exact origins remain a mystery, but scientists think it was made by more than an ordinary supernova. Here, Cassiopeia A, a supernova remnant, was captured in a NASA image. NASA/DOE/Fermi LAT Collaboration, CXC/SAO/JPL-Caltech/Steward/O. Krause et al., and NRAO/AUI hide caption

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NASA/DOE/Fermi LAT Collaboration, CXC/SAO/JPL-Caltech/Steward/O. Krause et al., and NRAO/AUI

Researchers report in the journal Science that they appear to have some clues about the origin of Earth's plutonium - which has been long debated. Correspondent Nell Greenfieldboyce explains that traces of rare forms of iron and plutonium have been found in extraterrestrial debris that had sunk to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, hauled up by an oil company, then donated for research. By comparing the iron and the plutonium, scientists found the plutonium was likely forged in a cosmic cataclysm, perhaps a rare kind of supernova, and then rained down on Earth.

Ever find yourself existentially musing? Wondering about the state of the cosmos? Drop us a line at shortwave@npr.org and we might jump into a wormhole with you.

This episode edited by Gisele Grayson and produced by Rebecca Ramirez. Rasha Aridi checked the facts and Josephine Nyounai was the audio engineer.