Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Stardust capsule set to return to Earth - UK spokespeople and broadcast information

11.01.2006


This Sunday morning (15th January) at 10.12 am GMT a capsule containing dust from Comet Wild 2 will return to Earth landing in the Utah Desert near Salt Lake City. The landing of the capsule marks the return of NASA’s Stardust mission which has been on a three billion-mile trip to collect pristine cometary material and interstellar dust. After their collection samples will be distributed to a limited number of specialist research teams. Four UK institutions have been invited to be part of these Preliminary Examination Teams: scientists from the Open University, the Natural History Museum, Imperial College and the University of Kent will be hoping that the material provides a key to unlock some of the secrets of the Solar System.



Professor Keith Mason, Chief Executive Officer of the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC), which part funded the UK involvement in Stardust, said, “The return of the samples from Stardust is a truly remarkable feat. It will be the first time in the history of space exploration that samples from a comet and from interstellar space will be returned to Earth. It is particularly exciting that scientists from the UK will be some of the first to analyse the samples – helping to further our understanding of the origins of the Solar System.”

Following its launch in February 1999 Stardust made its brief but dramatic encounter with Comet Wild 2 (pronounced Vilt after its Swiss discoverer) on 2nd January 2004 capturing thousands of particles as it came within 146 miles of the comet. Remarkably, it survived the high speed impact of millions of dust particles and small rocks of up to half a centimetre across (Stardust passed Comet Wild 2 at 13,000 mph – over 6 times faster than a speeding bullet). Stardust’s tennis racket shaped collector captured thousands of these comet particles into cells filled with Aerogel - a substance so light it almost floats in air.


After their capture the particles were locked away in a “clam shell” capsule to protect them on their journey back to Earth. Some 4 hours before landing the capsule will be released by the spacecraft, via a spring mechanism, where it will enter the Earth’s atmosphere 410,000 feet over the Pacific Ocean. The capsule’s aerodynamic shape and centre of gravity are designed like a shuttlecock so it will automatically orient itself with its nose down as it enters the atmosphere. At approximately 105,000 feet the capsule will release a drogue parachute to control its decent until the main parachute opens at around 10,000 feet. The capsule is scheduled to land at 10.12 am GMT, touching down at a speed of 4.5 metres/second (approximately 10 miles an hour).

After landing the capsule will be recovered by a helicopter crew who will fly it to the US Army Dugway Proving Ground, Utah for initial processing before taking it to NASA’s Johnson Space Centre in Houston. The first samples will be made available to a small number of teams, including The Open University’ s Planetary and Space Science Research Institute (PSSRI), for preliminary analysis before their release to the wider scientific community.

The Open University team including Dr Simon Green, Dr Ian Franchi, Dr John Bridges and Professor Monica Grady will be among the world’s first scientists to analyse the samples that contain the fundamental building blocks of our Solar System. Analysis may be able to determine not only the origins of the Solar System from these samples, but also possibly the origins of life.

“The tiny particles that the Stardust mission is bringing back are the most scientifically exciting and technically challenging material that we have ever had the opportunity to study”, said Professor Grady. “Imagine trying to pick up a grain that is less than a hundredth of the size of the full stop at the end of this sentence. It is amazing to think that such minute specks of dust can carry within them so much information about the origin of stars and planets.”

“Stardust could provide a new window into the distant past,” said Dr Green. “Comets are made of ice and are very cold and have been very cold since they were formed. That protects the material of which they were made from any process of heating, so they haven’t been changed since they were formed, right at the beginning of the formation of the Solar System. So we can have almost a little time capsule of what things were like 4.5 billion years ago. We can also learn about processes in stars and interstellar dust clouds in which the dust grains originally formed. They may also reveal information about the origins of life since comets are a source of organic material that may have formed the original building blocks of life-forming molecules."

Gill Ormrod | alfa
Further information:
http://www.pparc.ac.uk
http://stardust.jpl.nasa.gov

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Hope to discover sure signs of life on Mars? New research says look for the element vanadium
22.09.2017 | University of Kansas

nachricht Calculating quietness
22.09.2017 | Forschungszentrum MATHEON ECMath

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: The pyrenoid is a carbon-fixing liquid droplet

Plants and algae use the enzyme Rubisco to fix carbon dioxide, removing it from the atmosphere and converting it into biomass. Algae have figured out a way to increase the efficiency of carbon fixation. They gather most of their Rubisco into a ball-shaped microcompartment called the pyrenoid, which they flood with a high local concentration of carbon dioxide. A team of scientists at Princeton University, the Carnegie Institution for Science, Stanford University and the Max Plank Institute of Biochemistry have unravelled the mysteries of how the pyrenoid is assembled. These insights can help to engineer crops that remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere while producing more food.

A warming planet

Im Focus: Highly precise wiring in the Cerebral Cortex

Our brains house extremely complex neuronal circuits, whose detailed structures are still largely unknown. This is especially true for the so-called cerebral cortex of mammals, where among other things vision, thoughts or spatial orientation are being computed. Here the rules by which nerve cells are connected to each other are only partly understood. A team of scientists around Moritz Helmstaedter at the Frankfiurt Max Planck Institute for Brain Research and Helene Schmidt (Humboldt University in Berlin) have now discovered a surprisingly precise nerve cell connectivity pattern in the part of the cerebral cortex that is responsible for orienting the individual animal or human in space.

The researchers report online in Nature (Schmidt et al., 2017. Axonal synapse sorting in medial entorhinal cortex, DOI: 10.1038/nature24005) that synapses in...

Im Focus: Tiny lasers from a gallery of whispers

New technique promises tunable laser devices

Whispering gallery mode (WGM) resonators are used to make tiny micro-lasers, sensors, switches, routers and other devices. These tiny structures rely on a...

Im Focus: Ultrafast snapshots of relaxing electrons in solids

Using ultrafast flashes of laser and x-ray radiation, scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics (Garching, Germany) took snapshots of the briefest electron motion inside a solid material to date. The electron motion lasted only 750 billionths of the billionth of a second before it fainted, setting a new record of human capability to capture ultrafast processes inside solids!

When x-rays shine onto solid materials or large molecules, an electron is pushed away from its original place near the nucleus of the atom, leaving a hole...

Im Focus: Quantum Sensors Decipher Magnetic Ordering in a New Semiconducting Material

For the first time, physicists have successfully imaged spiral magnetic ordering in a multiferroic material. These materials are considered highly promising candidates for future data storage media. The researchers were able to prove their findings using unique quantum sensors that were developed at Basel University and that can analyze electromagnetic fields on the nanometer scale. The results – obtained by scientists from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics, the Swiss Nanoscience Institute, the University of Montpellier and several laboratories from University Paris-Saclay – were recently published in the journal Nature.

Multiferroics are materials that simultaneously react to electric and magnetic fields. These two properties are rarely found together, and their combined...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

“Lasers in Composites Symposium” in Aachen – from Science to Application

19.09.2017 | Event News

I-ESA 2018 – Call for Papers

12.09.2017 | Event News

EMBO at Basel Life, a new conference on current and emerging life science research

06.09.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Rainbow colors reveal cell history: Uncovering β-cell heterogeneity

22.09.2017 | Life Sciences

Penn first in world to treat patient with new radiation technology

22.09.2017 | Medical Engineering

Calculating quietness

22.09.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>