NASA’s Stardust capsule returned to Earth in 2006 after collecting samples near Mars. (NASA via Reuters)

Scientists say they’ve captured the first samples of interstellar material — seven super-tiny particles of precious rock, perhaps from distant exploded stars — that drifted into our solar system.

“This is the original stuff,” said Andrew Westphal, a physicist at the University of California at Berkeley’s Space Sciences Laboratory and lead author of a new report in the journal Science.

The particles were captured near Mars by the Stardust spacecraft, which NASA launched in 1999 to sample the dust in a comet’s wake.

A team of scientists has been finely combing through the spacecraft’s dust collectors since it returned to Earth in 2006.

Westphal said additional tests must be done before the team can be sure where the dust came from.

The microscopic particles could help explain the origin and evolution of matter that until now could only be guessed about from observations.

“This is about our own origins — understanding the stuff that made our solar system, our planet and us,” Westphal said.

— MCT Information Services