Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Stardust NExT set to meet its second comet

10.02.2011
Stardust NExT must love comets. On Valentine's Day the spacecraft will get up close and personal with its second.

It's been seven years since the original Stardust danced with Wild 2 out beyond the orbit of Mars, capturing a thimbleful of comet dust in its collector. It's been five years since the craft jettisoned its sample-return capsule and its precious cargo for a landing in the Utah desert.


This artist\\\'s rendition depicts the Stardust NExT spacecraft approaching comet Tempel 1. The flyby will happen on Valentine\\\'s Day. Credit: NASA

Next Monday the probe will make history again in a 125-mile embrace with comet Tempel 1. It will be the first time two different comets have been surveyed with the same set of scientific instruments. And Tempel 1, explored by NASA's Deep Impact mission in 2005, will be the first comet to be visited by two spacecraft.

University of Washington astronomer Donald Brownlee, who had a ringside seat for the Wild 2 flyby as Stardust's principal investigator, is a co-investigator for Stardust NExT. The principal investigator is Joseph Veverka of Cornell University.

Brownlee has seen what the spacecraft can do, knows what it has survived and has enjoyed the phenomenal success it already has chalked up.

"Had we known at the time of the Wild 2 flyby how comets worked, we would have been even more nervous. There were jets at sonic speeds, and there were clumps of material coming out from the comet and breaking up," he said. That's scary when you know a particle larger than a centimeter across – less than half an inch – could destroy the spacecraft, along with years of planning and work.

Knowledge about comets has shifted significantly in just the last five years, thanks to the Wild 2 samples Stardust sent back to Earth.

Because comets form in the ultra-frigid region beyond Neptune, scientists expected the non-icy parts of the comet to be made up of particles that flowed into the solar system from out in the cosmos. Instead, it turned out that nearly everything bigger than a micron (one-millionth of a meter) in diameter was formed in the inner solar system, and at very high temperatures. The material somehow was carried out beyond the planets and was incorporated into comets.

"When the solar system was forming, it was actually turning itself inside out," Brownlee said. "I think we're seeing a component that was uniformly distributed when the solar system was forming."

Stardust NExT no longer has the ability to capture samples from a comet, since its collector returned to Earth following the encounter with Wild 2. At Tempel 1 it will take photos of the crater formed during the Deep Impact mission to learn more about the interior of comets. Deep Impact couldn't gather those images because its camera's vision was obscured by a cloud of debris from the creation of the crater.

Stardust NExT also will measure the size and distribution of particles flowing from Tempel 1 and analyze the particles' composition, and the science team hopes to make detailed observations of how interaction with the sun has physically changed Tempel 1 in the six years since the Deep Impact encounter.

Getting two high-profile science missions from the Stardust spacecraft took a lot of careful planning, but there also was a measure of luck.

"It's great to have a good proposal, but it takes a lot of good fortune too," Brownlee said. "We were fortunate to be selected, and once we were selected it took a lot of hard work, but a lot of things had to go right."

In fact, things went so right that the science will never be the same again.

"Scientifically, it was a phenomenal success. People think about the formation of the solar system differently than they used to," he said. And the discoveries are likely to go on for many years, as tools are developed to do new types of research on the comet grains.

"We do things now that we couldn't do at all when the sample came back, let alone when the spacecraft was launched," Brownlee said. These include the ability to make precise isotope measurements in micron-size grains, or detect the amino acid glycine in such tiny samples.

Stardust started out with about 22 gallons of hydrazine fuel for its thrusters. Now, two missions and about 3.6 billion miles later, there is perhaps a cup of fuel left, not enough for any meaningful operations.

So, after 12 years of being guided by mission controllers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the office-desk-sized spacecraft will continue to orbit the sun on its own. It will still have its scientific instruments and its camera, a spare from the Voyager program. It also still carries two microchips bearing the names, in microscopic type, of more than 1 million Earthlings who signed up before the launch. (Duplicate chips came back in the return capsule and now are on display at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.)

Brownlee recalls the bittersweet moment at the end of the first Stardust mission, when the spacecraft was put into hibernation until needed again, and the board in the control room flashed "LOS" – loss of signal. He knows even at the end of this mission the spacecraft will still be out there, in its long loops around the sun for perhaps a million years, until it crashes into Earth or, more likely, is ejected by gravity from the solar system.

"When it's chucked from the solar system by Jupiter, the spacecraft and its 'crew' of signatures will keep going for billions of years," he said. "The chip will probably be readable after the Earth is gone."

Stardust NExT facts
Stardust mission: Approved by NASA in 1995
Spacecraft manufacturer: Lockheed-Martin Aeronautics
Launch vehicle: Boeing Delta II rocket
Launch: Feb. 7, 1999 (as Stardust)
Asteroid Anne Frank flyby: Nov. 2, 2002
Comet Wild 2 flyby: Jan 2, 2004
Sample capsule return: Jan. 15, 2006
Stardust gets its NExT mission: July 3, 2007
Comet Tempel 1 flyby: Feb. 14, 2011
Electrical power: Generated by solar panels
Fuel: Hydrazine (about 22 gallons)
Miles traveled: About 3.6 billion
Mileage: About 164 million miles per gallon
For more information, contact Brownlee at 206-543-8575 or brownlee@astro.washington.edu.

See a NASA video on Stardust and Stardust NExT at http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/video/index.cfm.

Stardust NExT on the Web: http://stardustnext.jpl.nasa.gov

Stardust on the Web: http://stardust.jpl.nasa.gov

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

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht MSU astronomers discovered supermassive black hole in an ultracompact dwarf galaxy
14.08.2018 | Lomonosov Moscow State University

nachricht ASU astrophysicist helps discover that ultrahot planets have starlike atmospheres
13.08.2018 | Arizona State University

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: New interactive machine learning tool makes car designs more aerodynamic

Scientists develop first tool to use machine learning methods to compute flow around interactively designable 3D objects. Tool will be presented at this year’s prestigious SIGGRAPH conference.

When engineers or designers want to test the aerodynamic properties of the newly designed shape of a car, airplane, or other object, they would normally model...

Im Focus: Robots as 'pump attendants': TU Graz develops robot-controlled rapid charging system for e-vehicles

Researchers from TU Graz and their industry partners have unveiled a world first: the prototype of a robot-controlled, high-speed combined charging system (CCS) for electric vehicles that enables series charging of cars in various parking positions.

Global demand for electric vehicles is forecast to rise sharply: by 2025, the number of new vehicle registrations is expected to reach 25 million per year....

Im Focus: The “TRiC” to folding actin

Proteins must be folded correctly to fulfill their molecular functions in cells. Molecular assistants called chaperones help proteins exploit their inbuilt folding potential and reach the correct three-dimensional structure. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry (MPIB) have demonstrated that actin, the most abundant protein in higher developed cells, does not have the inbuilt potential to fold and instead requires special assistance to fold into its active state. The chaperone TRiC uses a previously undescribed mechanism to perform actin folding. The study was recently published in the journal Cell.

Actin is the most abundant protein in highly developed cells and has diverse functions in processes like cell stabilization, cell division and muscle...

Im Focus: Lining up surprising behaviors of superconductor with one of the world's strongest magnets

Scientists have discovered that the electrical resistance of a copper-oxide compound depends on the magnetic field in a very unusual way -- a finding that could help direct the search for materials that can perfectly conduct electricity at room temperatur

What happens when really powerful magnets--capable of producing magnetic fields nearly two million times stronger than Earth's--are applied to materials that...

Im Focus: World record: Fastest 3-D tomographic images at BESSY II

The quality of materials often depends on the manufacturing process. In casting and welding, for example, the rate at which melts solidify and the resulting microstructure of the alloy is important. With metallic foams as well, it depends on exactly how the foaming process takes place. To understand these processes fully requires fast sensing capability. The fastest 3D tomographic images to date have now been achieved at the BESSY II X-ray source operated by the Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin.

Dr. Francisco Garcia-Moreno and his team have designed a turntable that rotates ultra-stably about its axis at a constant rotational speed. This really depends...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Within reach of the Universe

08.08.2018 | Event News

A journey through the history of microscopy – new exhibition opens at the MDC

27.07.2018 | Event News

2018 Work Research Conference

25.07.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

'Building up' stretchable electronics to be as multipurpose as your smartphone

14.08.2018 | Information Technology

During HIV infection, antibody can block B cells from fighting pathogens

14.08.2018 | Life Sciences

First study on physical properties of giant cancer cells may inform new treatments

14.08.2018 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>