Free Newsletters - Space - Defense - Environment - Energy - Solar - Nuclear
by Staff Writers
Moffett Field CA (SPX) Apr 29, 2014
by Aaron L. Gronstal for Astrobiology Magazine At this year's Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (LPSC), scientists reported that, after eight painstaking years of work, they have retrieved seven particles of interstellar dust from NASA's Stardust spacecraft.
Stardust was launched in 1999 to chase the comet Wild 2. The spacecraft captured particles from the tail of the comet. The samples showed that cometary materials have undergone a great deal of alteration since the birth of the Solar System - such as heating and melting when comets pass near the Sun.
In addition, the spacecraft also pointed its collectors toward bust blowing in from interstellar space. Stardust spent 200 days catching particles of dust during its mission.
In 2006, Stardust returned to Earth and ejected a reentry capsule that carried its samples into the hands of eager scientists on our planet. When they opened up the capsule, it quickly became clear that the samples were going to be very difficult to retrieve. The particles were embedded in a substance called 'aerogel,' which was used to catch them... but they were so tiny that it was nearly impossible to spot them.
To solve the problem, scientists developed the Stardust@home project, where over 30,000 members of the public helped hunt the particles down.
The study authors report, "More than 30,000 volunteers carried out track identification in aerogel by searching stacks of digital optical images of the aerogel collectors, using an online virtual microscope." (1)
Ultimately, after one hundred million searches, only seven likely samples of interstellar dust were found. There were many more tracks identified, but according to the study, "Most of the tracks had trajectories that were consistent with an origin as ejecta from impacts on the solar panels." (1)
Now, the trick is getting the seven potential samples of interstellar dust out of the aerogel and into instruments that can analyze them.
Stardust was the first NASA mission since Apollo to return samples to Earth. The total weight of the seven specs of dust is only one trillionth of a gram, but the materials could reveal important details about how our solar system was born.
Studying the origin and evolution of the Solar System is important for astrobiologists who are trying to determine the conditions that lead to habitability on Earth. This information will help researchers hunt for similar, inhabited worlds around distant stars.
Lands Beyond Beyond - extra solar planets - news and science
Life Beyond Earth
|The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright 1995-2014 - Space Media Network. All websites are published in Australia and are solely subject to Australian law and governed by Fair Use principals for news reporting and research purposes. AFP, UPI and IANS news wire stories are copyright Agence France-Presse, United Press International and Indo-Asia News Service. ESA news reports are copyright European Space Agency. All NASA sourced material is public domain. Additional copyrights may apply in whole or part to other bona fide parties. Advertising does not imply endorsement, agreement or approval of any opinions, statements or information provided by Space Media Network on any Web page published or hosted by Space Media Network. Privacy Statement All images and articles appearing on Space Media Network have been edited or digitally altered in some way. Any requests to remove copyright material will be acted upon in a timely and appropriate manner. Any attempt to extort money from Space Media Network will be ignored and reported to Australian Law Enforcement Agencies as a potential case of financial fraud involving the use of a telephonic carriage device or postal service.|