Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Stardust parachutes to soft landing in Utah with dust samples from comet

18.01.2006


Nearly seven years after setting off in pursuit of comet Wild 2, the Stardust return capsule streaked across the night sky of the Western United States early Sunday, making a soft parachute landing in the Utah desert southwest of Salt Lake City.



Special helicopter-borne teams secured and recovered the capsule, containing tens of thousands of comet grains and as many as 100 bits of interstellar dust, shortly after it landed. The capsule was moved to a clean room at the Air Force’s Utah Testing and Training Range, where a canister containing the collector grid was to be extracted and shipped to the Johnson Space Center in Houston later this week.

Donald Brownlee, a University of Washington astronomy professor who is Stardust’s principal investigator, or lead scientist, believes the comet dust carries evidence, preserved in the deep-freeze of deep space, about how the sun and the solar system formed more than 4 billion years ago.


"What’s really exciting to me is that we soon expect to have this cosmic library in the laboratory so that we can try to read those records of our earliest history," Brownlee said. "Our seven-year journey actually went back in time 4.5 billion years to gather these primitive samples."

Stardust, launched by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration from Cape Canaveral, Fla., on Feb. 7, 1999, encountered Wild 2 (pronounced Vilt 2) on Jan. 2, 2004, beyond the orbit of Mars. It flew less than 150 miles from the comet’s nucleus to capture tiny grains of dust and snap close-up photographs of the comet’s main body. Though the grains were traveling faster than rifle bullets, they were not appreciably altered because the spacecraft’s collector used a remarkable substance called aerogel that is as much as 99.9 percent empty space. The aerogel, Brownlee said, greatly reduced the effects of impact. The collector’s reverse side was used to capture bits of interstellar dust streaming into the solar system from other parts of the galaxy.

On its voyage, Stardust traveled 2.88 billion miles – the equivalent of more than 1 million trips from Los Angeles to New York. The mission became a quest for Brownlee after Wild 2 had a close encounter with Jupiter in 1974. The giant planet’s gravitational tug deflected the comet away from its previous path that went beyond Uranus, and brought it to the inner solar system where it could be reached by a spacecraft such as Stardust. Other spacecraft have visited comets, but Stardust is the only one designed to bring comet dust samples back to Earth.

Brownlee noted that thousands of tons of microscopic comet particles blanket the Earth each year, but there is no way to pinpoint where they came from. Previously the only solid extraterrestrial samples for which a point of origin had been firmly established were moon rocks brought back during the Apollo era and meteorites that scientists know had to come from Mars. Now there will be samples of material from another known space body, and they can be compared with all the previously collected meteorites and bits of dust to see if there are similar origins.

Once the canister arrives in Houston, it will be opened and work will begin extracting the comet and interstellar grains from the aerogel collector grid. The material will be parceled out to laboratories around the world for a variety of studies and experiments. One irony is that the microscopically tiny particles will be studied with some of the largest instruments.

"There’s a whole variety of scientific instruments, and people all over the world are going to be investigating using the very best possible tools," Brownlee said. "They will use electron microscopes, mass spectrometers and even nuclear accelerators. The largest instrument to be used that I know is Stanford University’s linear accelerator, which is 2 miles long."

Stardust is part of NASA’s series of Discovery missions and is managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. Besides the UW, other major partners for the $212 million project are Lockheed Martin Space Systems; The Boeing Co.; Germany’s Max-Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics; NASA Ames Research Center; the University of Chicago; The Open University in England; and Johnson Space Center in Houston.

Brownlee likened the mission to some of the great seafaring adventures in human history.

"A lot of great explorers didn’t make it back," he said. "This is the longest return voyage. Nothing has ever gone this far away and come back.

"In a very real sense, it is a great gift to be given the chance to do something like this."

Vince Stricherz | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.washington.edu
http://stardust.jpl.nasa.gov
http://www.nasa.gov/stardust

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Significantly more productivity in USP lasers
06.12.2016 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Lasertechnik ILT

nachricht Shape matters when light meets atom
05.12.2016 | Centre for Quantum Technologies at the National University of Singapore

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: Significantly more productivity in USP lasers

In recent years, lasers with ultrashort pulses (USP) down to the femtosecond range have become established on an industrial scale. They could advance some applications with the much-lauded “cold ablation” – if that meant they would then achieve more throughput. A new generation of process engineering that will address this issue in particular will be discussed at the “4th UKP Workshop – Ultrafast Laser Technology” in April 2017.

Even back in the 1990s, scientists were comparing materials processing with nanosecond, picosecond and femtosesecond pulses. The result was surprising:...

Im Focus: Shape matters when light meets atom

Mapping the interaction of a single atom with a single photon may inform design of quantum devices

Have you ever wondered how you see the world? Vision is about photons of light, which are packets of energy, interacting with the atoms or molecules in what...

Im Focus: Novel silicon etching technique crafts 3-D gradient refractive index micro-optics

A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.

Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...

Im Focus: Quantum Particles Form Droplets

In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.

“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...

Im Focus: MADMAX: Max Planck Institute for Physics takes up axion research

The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.

The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ICTM Conference 2017: Production technology for turbomachine manufacturing of the future

16.11.2016 | Event News

Innovation Day Laser Technology – Laser Additive Manufacturing

01.11.2016 | Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

NTU scientists build new ultrasound device using 3-D printing technology

07.12.2016 | Health and Medicine

The balancing act: An enzyme that links endocytosis to membrane recycling

07.12.2016 | Life Sciences

How to turn white fat brown

07.12.2016 | Health and Medicine

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>