Study of the dust in circumstellar disks around young stars is currently an extremely active area in astronomy. There is little doubt that accretion disks are a natural part of protostellar evolution. Much recent observational and theoretical work is giving us a clearer picture of the physical conditions in dust disks and their evolutionary progression. IRAS observations revealed that many main-sequence stars, such as p Pictoris, have circumstellar disks. But whether these disks are related to planetary formation is not yet understood.
A portion of the dust in disks around young stars ultimately may be incorporated into planetary systems. Thus, study of the dust in our own solar system complements the remote sensing of protostellar regions and aids in reconstructing the evolutionary history of the dust. Since comets formed in the cold outer regions of the solar nebula, they may contain intact interstellar grains. As the comets lose material during passage through the warm inner solar system, some of these grains will be released into interplanetary space. Technical advances now allow analysis of individual micrometer or smaller grains in interplanetary dust particles and primitive meteorite samples. Isotopic anomalies and patterns of crystal growth in these particles are yielding tantalizing clues about the interstellar material incorporated into these solar system samples.