Skip to comments.Stardust mission returned 'cosmic treasure,' scientist says
Posted on 01/19/2006 1:45:23 PM PST by NormsRevenge
SPACE CENTER, Houston (AP) - A honeycomb cluster of cells on NASA's Stardust spacecraft captured thousands of samples of interstellar and comet dust that scientists said Thursday could give them the first definitive evidence about how the solar system formed.
"Its cargo was an ancient, cosmic treasure from the very edge of the solar system - a treasure that formed when the solar system formed 4.5 billion years ago," said Donald Brownlee, a University of Washington scientist who worked on the Stardust mission managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.
Some of the samples collected during the seven-year, $212 million mission will be sent to 150 scientists worldwide so they can study the cosmic grains.
The spacecraft swooped past the comet Wild 2 in 2004 and used a tennis racket-sized collector mitt, which contained the honeycomb of cells filled with gel-like material to snatch the dust particles.
The Stardust spacecraft looped around the sun three times to capture the interstellar and comet dust, which hit the gel at a speed six times faster than a bullet fired from a rifle.
The capsule containing the spacecraft's collector returned to Earth on Sunday in Utah and was transported to NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, where scientists opened it Tuesday.
"We had a long time to come up with all of the things that could go wrong," said Michael Zolensky, Stardust's curator.
What if the collector didn't open up correctly or the particles slammed with such force into the gel that they blew the material out, leaving scientists with nothing to study, Zolensky and other scientists wondered.
"We were really worried about that and got more and more worried as time went by," Zolensky said. "So when we opened the tray just two days ago in the lab, we were pleased to find that everything went exactly right - just fabulous. We couldn't have done a better job catching these particles."
Most of the particles, which appear black under a microscope, aren't visible to the human eye. But Brownlee said he and other scientists were surprised all of the particles weren't "purely microscopic."
"That's why we were jumping up and down," he said. "We were totally overwhelmed by the ability to actually see this."
Zolensky said scientists who study the dust will determine what minerals are in it and compare the dust particles to meteorites. They also will attempt to determine if the dust contains organic material.
"They are very small rocks, but they are rocks nonetheless. And what do these minerals tell us about how these grains form?" he said. "We think that much of the Earth's water and organics ... perhaps came from comets. So what will these samples tell us about basically where our atoms and molecules came from and then how they were delivered to Earth and in what amount?"
Peter Tsou, the mission's deputy principal investigator from JPL, said the sample return is historic.
"Tiny samples from a distant comet open giant windows of our past," he said.
Oh big deal! I found some dust behind my dresser when I moved it the other days that is AT LEAST as old as what they spent all that money to collect. Ands I'll sell it to them cheap...
Hmmmm....seems like I've read about this some place before.............
I love the guy in the background with the peace symbols - I'll bet in another picture he starts banging his head like Beavis and Butthead.
Wouldn't it be interesting, of someday, we learn that at the heart of every comet, it's nucleus --is an old Buick with "Non-op" insurance?
It makes you think...
I'm glad we're spending billions going to Pluto and collecting dust (I collect dust too)-- instead of building a wall at the border. A wall of Kryptonite-- seven feet thick. Red or green- makes no difference.
Good job, guys!!!
Just another example proving that scientists should avoid waxing rhapsodic....
A lot of that dust behind your dresser might have come from space. Estimates of how much space dust lands on Earth every day range from 100 to 1,000 tons.
It's an alien life form...hellbent on Earth's destruction! Where's Mulder and Scully?
The truth is out there..........:)
So, I'm not getting fatter? The accumulation is just causing the gravitational pull of the earth to increase?
Meanwhile, back in low earth orbit,
the crew of the ISS is doing a great job
of cleaning green slime off of the walls
of their spaecraft.
"I love the guy in the background with the peace symbols - I'll bet in another picture he starts banging his head like Beavis and Butthead."
No, then he would have done the "Dio" fingers (index and pinky).
I've always blamed gravity waves for any apparent weight gain -- but come to think of it, accumulated space dust would explain the slow & steady gains better.
It's good to know it's not just me.
Thank you very much for the ping! Congrats to any of your friends who may be working on this. We have a prof here at the U of M's Physics and Astronomy department who is going to be working on some of the samples.
Probably a V for Victory, actually.
This guy wasn't flashing a 'peace sign'
And neither was this guy ...
They're both flashing a 'Vee for Victory' sign.
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