Friday, February 17, 2006

Stardust search



aerogel tracks from the stardustathome website




Here's an interesting project. NASA needs volunteers to help identify stardust tracks hopefully collected by their space probe when it passed through the coma of a comet.

Here are some excerpts from their website:

In January 2004, the Stardust spacecraft flew through the coma of comet Wild2 and captured thousands of cometary dust grains in special aerogel collectors. Two years later, in January 2006 , Stardust will return these dust grains --- the first sample return from a solid solar-system body beyond the Moon --- to Earth (the collector has returned to earth and they are preparing the samples). But Stardust carries an equally important payload on the opposite side of the cometary collector: the first samples of contemporary interstellar dust ever collected. As well as being the first mission to return samples from a comet, Stardust is the first sample return mission from the Galaxy. But finding the incredibly tiny interstellar dust impacts in the Stardust Interstellar Dust Collector (SIDC) will be extremely difficult.

We are seeking volunteers to help us to search for these tiny samples of matter from the galaxy. Volunteers are critical to the success of this project. Please help us find the first samples of contemporary Stardust ever collected.

And,

Finding the incredibly tiny interstellar dust impacts in the Stardust Interstellar Dust Collector (SIDC) will be extremely difficult. Because dust detectors on the Ulysses and Galileo spacecraft have detected interstellar dust streaming into the solar system, we know there should be about 45 interstellar dust impacts in the SIDC. These impacts can only be found using a high-magnification microscope with a field of view smaller than a grain of salt. But the aerogel collector that we have to search enormous by comparison, about a tenth of a square meter (about a square foot) in size. The job is roughly equivalent to searching for 45 ants in an entire football field, one 5cm by 5cm (2 inch by 2 inch) square at a time! More than 1.6 million individual fields of view will have to searched to find the interstellar dust grains. We estimate that it would take more than twenty years of continuous scanning for us to search the entire collector by ourselves.

So volunteer and if you identify the dust impacts, you may be sited in their scientific papers as a co-author!

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