White Cliffs of Dover
Aerial view of the white cliffs of Dover in Dover, EnglandBen Pruchnie/Getty Images

Space dust has been found in the white cliffs of Dover, with scientists hoping it will provide clues about our early solar system.

Researchers at Imperial College London said the fossilised remains of cosmic dust could also allow scientists to locate water-rich asteroids, improving future prospects of space travel.

"The iconic white cliffs of Dover are an important source of fossilised creatures that help us to determine the changes and upheavals the planet has undergone many millions of years ago," said Martin Suttle, lead author and a research postgraduate from Imperial's Department of Earth Science and Engineering.

"It is so exciting because we've now discovered that fossilised space dust is entombed alongside these creatures, which can also provide us with information about what was happening in our solar system at the time."

The findings were published in the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters.

The same team of researchers also reported in a separate study revealing they'd discovered a way for determining if cosmic dust was clay rich.

Clay can only form if water is present, so researchers said a method for determining clay content could act like a "cosmic diving rod" for determining the presence of water-rich asteroids in our solar system.

Dr Matt Genge, lead author from the College's Department of Earth Science and Engineering, said: "In the distant future, asteroids could provide human space explorers with valuable stop offs during long voyages.

"Being able to source water is vital because it can be used to drink, to make oxygen and even fuel to power spacecraft.

"The relevance of our study is that cosmic dust particles that land on Earth could ultimately be used to trace where these water-rich asteroids may be, providing a valuable tool for mapping this resource."

Cosmic dust has been previously found in rocks up to 2.7 billion years old but until now only well-preserved dust could be studied.

Researchers said their latest discovery could help them understand cosmic events as far back as 98 million years ago, such as major collisions between asteroids.