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.
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The formation of stars in distant galaxies is still largely unexplored. For the first time, astron-omers at the University of Geneva have now been able to closely observe a star system six billion light-years away. In doing so, they are confirming earlier simulations made by the University of Zurich. One special effect is made possible by the multiple reflections of images that run through the cosmos like a snake.
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Just because someone is smart and well-motivated doesn't mean he or she can learn the visual skills needed to excel at tasks like matching fingerprints, interpreting medical X-rays, keeping track of aircraft on radar displays or forensic face matching.
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Computer Tomography (CT) is a standard procedure in hospitals, but so far, the technology has not been suitable for imaging extremely small objects. In PNAS, a team from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) describes a Nano-CT device that creates three-dimensional x-ray images at resolutions up to 100 nanometers. The first test application: Together with colleagues from the University of Kassel and Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht the researchers analyzed the locomotory system of a velvet worm.
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The quantum world is fragile; error correction codes are needed to protect the information stored in a quantum object from the deteriorating effects of noise. Quantum physicists in Innsbruck have developed a protocol to pass quantum information between differently encoded building blocks of a future quantum computer, such as processors and memories. Scientists may use this protocol in the future to build a data bus for quantum computers. The researchers have published their work in the journal Nature Communications.
Future quantum computers will be able to solve problems where conventional computers fail today. We are still far away from any large-scale implementation,...
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