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 A tale of two pulsars' tails: Plumes offer geometry lessons to astronomers
18.01.2017 | Penn State

nachricht Studying fundamental particles in materials
17.01.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für Struktur und Dynamik der Materie

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: How gut bacteria can make us ill

HZI researchers decipher infection mechanisms of Yersinia and immune responses of the host

Yersiniae cause severe intestinal infections. Studies using Yersinia pseudotuberculosis as a model organism aim to elucidate the infection mechanisms of these...

Im Focus: Interfacial Superconductivity: Magnetic and superconducting order revealed simultaneously

Researchers from the University of Hamburg in Germany, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, have synthesized a new superconducting material by growing a few layers of an antiferromagnetic transition-metal chalcogenide on a bismuth-based topological insulator, both being non-superconducting materials.

While superconductivity and magnetism are generally believed to be mutually exclusive, surprisingly, in this new material, superconducting correlations...

Im Focus: Studying fundamental particles in materials

Laser-driving of semimetals allows creating novel quasiparticle states within condensed matter systems and switching between different states on ultrafast time scales

Studying properties of fundamental particles in condensed matter systems is a promising approach to quantum field theory. Quasiparticles offer the opportunity...

Im Focus: Designing Architecture with Solar Building Envelopes

Among the general public, solar thermal energy is currently associated with dark blue, rectangular collectors on building roofs. Technologies are needed for aesthetically high quality architecture which offer the architect more room for manoeuvre when it comes to low- and plus-energy buildings. With the “ArKol” project, researchers at Fraunhofer ISE together with partners are currently developing two façade collectors for solar thermal energy generation, which permit a high degree of design flexibility: a strip collector for opaque façade sections and a solar thermal blind for transparent sections. The current state of the two developments will be presented at the BAU 2017 trade fair.

As part of the “ArKol – development of architecturally highly integrated façade collectors with heat pipes” project, Fraunhofer ISE together with its partners...

Im Focus: How to inflate a hardened concrete shell with a weight of 80 t

At TU Wien, an alternative for resource intensive formwork for the construction of concrete domes was developed. It is now used in a test dome for the Austrian Federal Railways Infrastructure (ÖBB Infrastruktur).

Concrete shells are efficient structures, but not very resource efficient. The formwork for the construction of concrete domes alone requires a high amount of...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

12V, 48V, high-voltage – trends in E/E automotive architecture

10.01.2017 | Event News

2nd Conference on Non-Textual Information on 10 and 11 May 2017 in Hannover

09.01.2017 | Event News

Nothing will happen without batteries making it happen!

05.01.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

A big nano boost for solar cells

18.01.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Glass's off-kilter harmonies

18.01.2017 | Materials Sciences

Toward a 'smart' patch that automatically delivers insulin when needed

18.01.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>