On January 2nd 2004 the NASA space mission, STARDUST, will fly through comet Wild 2, capturing interstellar particles and dust and returning them to Earth in 2006. Space scientists from the Open University and University of Kent have developed one of the instruments which will help tell us more about comets and the evolution of our own solar system and, critical for STARDUST, its survival in the close fly-by of the comet.
Launched in February 1999, STARDUST is the first mission designed to bring samples back from a known comet. The study of comets provides a window into the past as they are the best preserved raw materials in the Solar System. The cometary and interstellar dust samples collected will help provide answers to fundamental questions about the origins of the solar system.
Scientists from the Open University and University of Kent have developed one set of sensors for the Dust Flux Monitor Instrument (DFMI) built by the University of Chicago, and the software to analyse the data. The DFMI, part funded by the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC) will record the distribution and sizes of particles on its journey through the centre, or coma, of the comet.
Gill Ormrod | PPARC
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