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May 28, 2006

Keep your eyes peeled for cosmic debris: Andrew Westphal about Stardust@home

Keep your eyes peeled for cosmic debris: Andrew Westphal about Stardust@home

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Sunday, May 28, 2006

Stardustlogo.jpg

Stardust is a NASA space capsule that collected samples from comet 81P/Wild (also known as “Wild 2) in deep space and landed back on Earth on January 15, 2006. It was decided that a collaborative online review process would be used to “discover” the microscopically small samples the capsule collected. The project is called Stardust@home. Unlike distributed computing projects like SETI@home, Stardust@home relies entirely on human intelligence.

Andrew Westphal is the director of Stardust@home. Wikinews interviewed him for May’s Interview of the Month (IOTM) on May 18, 2006. As always, the interview was conducted on IRC, with multiple people asking questions.

Some may not know exactly what Stardust or Stardust@home is. Can you explain more about it for us?

Artist’s rendering of Spacecraft Stardust

Stardust is a NASA Discovery mission that was launched in 1999. It is really two missions in one. The primary science goal of the mission was to collect a sample from a known primitive solar-system body, a comet called Wild 2 (pronounced “Vilt-two” — the discoverer was German, I believe). This is the first US “sample return” mission since Apollo, and the first ever from beyond the moon. This gives a little context. By “sample return” of course I mean a mission that brings back extraterrestrial material. I should have said above that this is the first “solid” sample return mission — Genesis brought back a sample from the Sun almost two years ago, but Stardust is also bringing back the first solid samples from the local interstellar medium — basically this is a sample of the Galaxy. This is absolutely unprecedented, and we’re obviously incredibly excited. I should mention parenthetically that there is a fantastic launch video — taken from the POV of the rocket on the JPL Stardust website — highly recommended — best I’ve ever seen — all the way from the launch pad, too. Basically interplanetary trajectory. Absolutely great.

Is the video available to the public?

Yes. OK, I digress. The first challenge that we have before can do any kind of analysis of these interstellar dust particles is simply to find them. This is a big challenge because they are very small (order of micron in size) and are somewhere (we don’t know where) on a HUGE collector– at least on the scale of the particle size — about a tenth of a square meter. So

We’re right now using an automated microscope that we developed several years ago for nuclear astrophysics work to scan the collector in the Cosmic Dust Lab in Building 31 at Johnson Space Center. This is the ARES group that handles returned samples (Moon Rocks, Genesis chips, Meteorites, and Interplanetary Dust Particles collected by U2 in the stratosphere). The microscope collects stacks of digital images of the aerogel collectors in the array. These images are sent to us — we compress them and convert them into a format appropriate for Stardust@home.

Stardust@home is a highly distributed project using a “Virtual Microscope” that is written in html and javascript and runs on most browsers — no downloads are required. Using the Virtual Microscope volunteers can search over the collector for the tracks of the interstellar dust particles.

Aerogel slice removed with an ultrasonic blade, showing particle tracks.

How many samples do you anticipate being found during the course of the project?

Great question. The short answer is that we don’t know. The long answer is a bit more complicated. Here’s what we know. The Galileo and Ulysses spacecraft carried dust detectors onboard that Eberhard Gruen and his colleagues used to first detect and them measure the flux of interstellar dust particles streaming into the solar system. (This is a kind of “wind” of interstellar dust, caused by the fact that our solar system is moving with respect to the local interstellar medium.) Markus Landgraf has estimated the number of interstellar dust particles that should have been captured by Stardust during two periods of the “cruise” phase of the interplanetary orbit in which the spacecraft was moving with this wind. He estimated that there should be around 45 particles, but this number is very uncertain — I wouldn’t be surprised if it is quite different from that. That was the long answer! One thing that I should say…is that like all research, the outcome of what we are doing is highly uncertain. There is a wonderful quote attributed to Einstein — “If we knew what we were doing, it wouldn’t be called “research”, would it?”

How big would the samples be?

We expect that the particles will be of order a micron in size. (A millionth of a meter.) When people are searching using the virtual microscope, they will be looking not for the particles, but for the tracks that the particles make, which are much larger — several microns in diameter. Just yesterday we switched over to a new site which has a demo of the VM (virtual microscope) I invite you to check it out. The tracks in the demo are from submicron carbonyl iron particles that were shot into aerogel using a particle accelerator modified to accelerate dust particles to very high speeds, to simulate the interstellar dust impacts that we’re looking for.

And that’s on the main Stardust@home website?

Yes.

How long will the project take to complete?

Partly the answer depends on what you mean by “the project”. The search will take several months. The bottleneck, we expect (but don’t really know yet) is in the scanning — we can only scan about one tile per day and there are 130 tiles in the collector…. These particles will be quite diverse, so we’re hoping that we’ll continue to have lots of volunteers collaborating with us on this after the initial discoveries. It may be that the 50th particle that we find will be the real Rosetta stone that turns out to be critical to our understanding of interstellar dust. So we really want to find them all! Enlarging the idea of the project a little, beyond the search, though is to actually analyze these particles. That’s the whole point, obviously!

And this is the huge advantage with this kind of a mission — a “sample return” mission.

Most missions rather do things quite differently… you have to build an instrument to make a measurement and that instrument design gets locked in several years before launch practically guaranteeing that it will be obsolete by the time you launch. Here exactly the opposite is true. Several of the instruments that are now being used to analyze the cometary dust did not exist when the mission was launched. Further, some instruments (e.g., synchrotrons) are the size of shopping malls — you don’t have a hope of flying these in space. So we can and will study these samples for many years. AND we have to preserve some of these dust particles for our grandchildren to analyze with their hyper-quark-gluon plasma microscopes (or whatever)!

When do you anticipate the project to start?

We’re really frustrated with the delays that we’ve been having. Some of it has to do with learning how to deal with the aerogel collectors, which are rougher and more fractured than we expected. The good news is that they are pretty clean — there is very little of the dust that you see on our training images — these were deliberately left out in the lab to collect dust so that we could give people experience with the worst case we could think of. In learning how to do the scanning of the actual flight aerogel, we uncovered a couple of bugs in our scanning software — which forced us to go back and rescan. Part of the other reason for the delay was that we had to learn how to handle the collector — it would cost $200M to replace it if something happened to it, so we had to develop procedures to deal with it, and add several new safety features to the Cosmic Dust Lab. This all took time. Finally, we’re distracted because we also have many responsibilities for the cometary analysis, which has a deadline of August 15 for finishing analysis. The IS project has no such deadline, so at times we had to delay the IS (interstellar, sorry) in order to focus on the cometary work. We are very grateful to everyone for their patience on this — I mean that very sincerely.

And rest assured that we’re just as frustrated!

I know there will be a “test” that participants will have to take before they can examine the “real thing”. What will that test consist of?

The test will look very similar to the training images that you can look at now. But.. there will of course be no annotation to tell you where the tracks are!

Why did NASA decide to take the route of distributed computing? Will they do this again?

I wouldn’t say that NASA decided to do this — the idea for Stardust@home originated here at U. C. Berkeley. Part of the idea of course came…

If I understand correctly it isn’t distributed computing, but distributed eyeballing?

…from the SETI@home people who are just down the hall from us. But as Brian just pointed out. this is not really distributed computing like SETI@home the computers are just platforms for the VM and it is human eyes and brains who are doing the real work which makes it fun (IMHO).

That said… There have been quite a few people who have expressed interested in developing automated algorithms for searching. Just because WE don’t know how to write such an algorithm doesn’t mean nobody does. We’re delighted at this and are happy to help make it happen

Isn’t there a catch 22 that the data you’re going to collect would be a prerequisite to automating the process?

That was the conclusion that we came to early on — that we would need some sort of training set to be able to train an algorithm. Of course you have to train people too, but we’re hoping (we’ll see!) that people are more flexible in recognizing things that they’ve never seen before and pointing them out. Our experience is that people who have never seen a track in aerogel can learn to recognize them very quickly, even against a big background of cracks, dust and other sources of confusion… Coming back to the original question — although NASA didn’t originate the idea, they are very generously supporting this project. It wouldn’t have happened without NASA’s financial support (and of course access to the Stardust collector). Did that answer the question?

Will a project like this be done again?

I don’t know… There are only a few projects for which this approach makes sense… In fact, I frankly haven’t run across another at least in Space Science. But I am totally open to the idea of it. I am not in favor of just doing it as “make-work” — that is just artificially taking this approach when another approach would make more sense.

How did the idea come up to do this kind of project?

Really desperation. When we first thought about this we assumed that we would use some sort of automated image recognition technique. We asked some experts around here in CS and the conclusion was that the problem was somewhere between trivial and impossible, and we wouldn’t know until we had some real examples to work with. So we talked with Dan Wertheimer and Dave Anderson (literally down the hall from us) about the idea of a distributed project, and they were quite encouraging. Dave proposed the VM machinery, and Josh Von Korff, a physics grad student, implemented it. (Beautifully, I think. I take no credit!)

I got to meet one of the stardust directors in March during the Texas Aerospace Scholars program at JSC. She talked about searching for meteors in Antarctica, one that were unblemished by Earth conditions. Is that our best chance of finding new information on comets and asteroids? Or will more Stardust programs be our best solution?

That’s a really good question. Much will depend on what we learn during this official “Preliminary Examination” period for the cometary analysis. Aerogel capture is pretty darn good, but it’s not perfect and things are altered during capture in ways that we’re still understanding. I think that much also depends on what question you’re asking. For example, some of the most important science is done by measuring the relative abundances of isotopes in samples, and these are not affected (at least not much) by capture into aerogel.

Also, she talked about how some of the agencies that they gave samples to had lost or destroyed 2-3 samples while trying to analyze them. That one, in fact, had been statically charged, and stuck to the side of the microscope lens and they spent over an hour looking for it. Is that really our biggest danger? Giving out samples as a show of good faith, and not letting NASA example all samples collected?

These will be the first measurements, probably, that we’ll make on the interstellar dust There is always a risk of loss. Fortunately for the cometary samples there is quite a lot there, so it’s not a disaster. NASA has some analytical capabilities, particularly at JSC, but the vast majority of the analytical capability in the community is not at NASA but is at universities, government labs and other institutions all over the world. I should also point out that practically every analytical technique is destructive at some level. (There are a few exceptions, but not many.) The problem with meteorites is that except in a very few cases, we don’t know where they specifically came from. So having a sample that we know for sure is from the comet is golden!

I am currently working on my Bachelor’s in computer science, with a minor in astronomy. Do you see successes of programs like Stardust to open up more private space exploration positions for people such as myself. Even though I’m not in the typical “space” fields of education?

Can you elaborate on your question a little — I’m not sure that I understand…

Well, while at JSC I learned that they mostly want Engineers, and a few science grads, and I worry that my computer science degree with not be very valuable, as the NASA rep told me only 1% of the applicants for their work study program are CS majors. I’m just curious as to your thoughts on if CS majors will be more in demand now that projects like Stardust and the Mars missions have been great successes? Have you seen a trend towards more private businesses moving in that direction, especially with President Bush’s statement of Man on the Moon in 2015?

That’s a good question. I am personally not very optimistic about the direction that NASA is going. Despite recent successes, including but not limited to Stardust, science at NASA is being decimated.

I made a joke with some people at the TAS event that one day SpaceShipOne will be sent up to save stranded ISS astronauts. It makes me wonder what kind of private redundancy the US government is taking for future missions.

I guess one thing to be a little cautious about is that despite SpaceShipOne’s success, we haven’t had an orbital project that has been successful in that style of private enterprise It would be nice to see that happen. I know that there’s a lot of interest…!

Now I know the answer to this question… but a lot do not… When samples are found, How will they be analyzed? Who gets the credit for finding the samples?

The first person who identifies an interstellar dust particle will be acknowledged on the website (and probably will be much in demand for interviews from the media!), will have the privilege of naming the particle, and will be a co-author on any papers that WE (at UCB) publish on the analysis of the particle. Also, although we are precluded from paying for travel expenses, we will invite those who discover particles AND the top performers to our lab for a hands-on tour.

We have some fun things, including micromachines.

How many people/participants do you expect to have?

About 113,000 have preregistered on our website. Frankly, I don’t have a clue how many will actually volunteer and do a substantial amount of searching. We’ve never done this before, after all!

One last thing I want to say … well, two. First, we are going to special efforts not to do any searching ourselves before we go “live”. It would not be fair to all the volunteers for us to get a jumpstart on the search. All we are doing is looking at a few random views to make sure that the focus and illumination are good. (And we haven’t seen anything — no surprise at all!) Also, the attitude for this should be “Have Fun”. If you’re not having fun doing it, stop and do something else! A good maxim for life in general!

Wikinews
This exclusive interview features first-hand journalism by a Wikinews reporter. See the collaboration page for more details.


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January 24, 2006

Exclusive: David Anderson talks about the Stardust@home project

Exclusive: David Anderson talks about the Stardust@home project

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Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Stardustlogo.jpg

Following the return of the Stardust space capsule from its encounter with the Comet Wild 2, NASA scientists have come up with a novel approach to dealing with the samples of “interstellar dust” that have been collected; they want help from the public.

The Stardust spacecraft carried an aerogel-based dust collector, which was exposed to space in varying orientations during different phases of the mission.

Wikipedia
Wikipedia has more about this subject:
Stardust@home

Only one side of the collector was exposed towards the stream of particles coming off the Comet Wild 2 during the encounter in 2004, while the other side was used to collect interstellar dust at an earlier point in the spacecraft’s journey.

Although scientists have seen the particles captured from comet Wild 2 when they examined the aerogel, they have not examined any of the particles expected on the other side of the collector due to their smallness. They will be examined after they are found with the help of Stardust@home. It is believed that on the order of 50 interstellar dust particles impacted the aerogel, each now resting inside a tiny crater.

Dr. Peter Tsou, Stardust deputy principal investigator, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, holds a Stardust sample tray while speaking to various news media representatives during a press conference at Johnson Space Center.

Stardust traveled nearly three billion miles and its mission lasted seven years. At times it was traveling at 8 miles a second. Thats fast enough to go from San Francisco to Los Angeles in one minute.

Stardust set a new all-time record for being the fastest spacecraft to return to Earth, breaking the previous record set in May of 1969 during the return of the Apollo X(10) command module. Don Brownlee of the University of Washington, Seattle said “our spacecraft has traveled further than anything from Earth ever has – and came back. We went half-way to Jupiter to meet the comet and collect samples from it. But the comet actually came in from the outer edge of the solar system, out beyond the orbit of Neptune, out by Pluto.”

In a move similar to some distributed computing projects, the analysis work for the project will be spread among volunteers on the Internet, who are being asked to participate in this scientific undertaking.

Wikinews reporter Jason Safoutin investigated the Stardust@home project, and discussed its goals with one of its founders. Via email, he interviewed David P. Anderson, a founder of the SETI@home project, and one of the creators of the Virtual Microscope which will be used to search for captured particles from interstellar space.

I was wondering If I could get some questions answered or if you could give me some “insider” info for the project. I am aware that you are taking place in the development of the VM (Virtual Microscope)…Could I know more about that? The ‘virtual microscope’ lets you scan through a set of images as if you were turning the focus knob on a microscope. The images are fairly large (about 100 KB each) so it’s important to pre-load the images. While you’re looking through one set of images, the VM is busy downloading the JPEG files for the next set.

David P. Anderson, one of the creaters of Stardust@home’s Virtual Microscope and Director of SETI@home.

At first we thought we’d have to do this with a Java applet or Flash program – something tricky and complicated. My contribution was to point out that it could be done fairly easily using Javascript, and I wrote a prototype of this.

Will this project use the BOINC Platform/Program?

Wikipedia
Wikipedia has more about this subject:
SETI@home

No. We thought about using some parts of BOINC (like the database and web pages for creating “accounts”) but it was easier just to do this from scratch.

How long will the project take?

It depends how many volunteers participate, and how fast they look at the ‘focus movies’. It will probably be just a month or two.

Anyone can join but they have to take a test before they can participate. What will the test include?

Looking at some focus movies and deciding whether they contain a dust particle. Participants see a lot of training examples before they take the test. It’s easy, not like a test in school.

How many will be allowed to participate?

No limit as of now.

When will the project start?

I think in about 2 months. It will take that long to transport the aerogel to the laboratory, and photograph it with the microscope. The software is ready to go.

Will the VM project analyze any of the particles or just look for them?

Stardust@home will only locate the particles. When they are located, they will be cut out of the aerogel and physically analyzed.

Thank you for your time David. And great work on the upcoming project and SETI@home.

Related Wikinews

  • “Stardust comet samples “visible to the naked eye”” — Wikinews, January 19, 2006
  • “Stardust lands in Utah successfully” — Wikinews, January 15, 2006
  • “Distributed computing to get “interstellar project”” — Wikinews, January 13, 2006
  • Comet Wild samples near home” — Wikinews, January 11, 2006

Sources

Wikinews
This exclusive interview features first-hand journalism by a Wikinews reporter. See the collaboration page for more details.

External links

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January 23, 2006

NASA postpones Stardust mission briefing, no revised date as of yet

NASA postpones Stardust mission briefing, no revised date as of yet

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Monday, January 23, 2006

Stardust Mission FirstLook.jpg

NASA cancelled a media briefing on its Stardust mission, expected to provide an update about analysis of both the “Comet Wild 2” particles and interstellar particles gathered during the nearly seven year mission. In “MEDIA ADVISORY: M06-016,” issued earlier today, the space agency announced postponement of the briefing, originally scheduled for Tuesday, January 24, 1 p.m. EST. No announcement has been made about when the briefing will be re-scheduled. NASA’s stated reason for delay was to, “allow the Stardust science team additional time to assess and distribute cometary samples.”

Related news

  • Comet Wild samples near home” — Wikinews, January 11, 2006
  • “Distributed computing to get “interstellar project”” — Wikinews, January 13, 2005

Sources

Wikipedia Learn more about Comet Wild 2 and Stardust on Wikipedia.

External links

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January 19, 2006

Stardust comet samples \”visible to the naked eye\”

Stardust comet samples “visible to the naked eye”

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Thursday, January 19, 2006

Donald Brownlee, Stardust principal investigator with the University of Washington, flashes a victory sign for the successful arrival of Stardust material.

Stardust, a NASA space probe, returned with more than scientists bargained for.

“I didn’t see anything,” said University of Washington astronomer, Don Brownlee, from NASA’s Johnson Space Center Tuesday.

But then, technicians flipped over the collection grid and scientists all around let out a huge gasp of excitement.

“It’s better than we could have possibly hoped for,” Brownlee said. “It exceeds all expectations. We have a huge number of impacts, and some are quite big and visible to the naked eye. It’s a huge success.”

In a memo from NASA, scientists said “hundreds of particles” could be seen in the collection tray. “There were two particularly large comet particles that had ‘exploded’ inside,” said the memo.

A lot of the largest particles shattered into little bits of black debris when they landed on the collecter. But many other visible particles left tracks as they landed at 13,000 MPH and stopped fully intact. “I remember warning people not to be disappointed if these tracks were very hard to see, but they are absolutely stunning,” Brownlee said.

Before they opened the collector, Brownlee admitted that no one really knew whether or not the device had actually caught any particles. “You just don’t know if nature is going to cooperate or not. It has been a magic mission.”

“The capsule tumbled several times when it landed by parachute in the Utah desert, but the impact didn’t crack the aerogel,” said Brownlee.

Picture showing impact comet material and interstellar dust.

NASA researcher Scott Sandford said the collection effort “succeeded well beyond our wildest hopes. I am not sure if it is good clean-room protocol to hug each other, but there was a lot of it going on for the first 10 minutes or so,” he added.

Stardust traveled nearly 3 billion miles and went around the Sun 3 times. Stardust’s mission in space lasted 7 years.

Scientists also hope to use Distributed Computing to help with looking over the samples. They will use a VM (Virtual Microscope) which will be developed by the University of California at Berkeley. The developers, computer scientist David Anderson, director of the SETI@home project and physics graduate student, Joshua Von Korff, are expected to design the program which is expected to go public in March.

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Related Wikinews

  • “Stardust lands in Utah successfully” — Wikinews, January 15, 2006
  • “Distributed computing to get “interstellar project”” — Wikinews, January 13, 2006
  • Comet Wild samples near home” — Wikinews, January 11, 2006

Sources


This text comes from Wikinews. Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 licence. For a complete list of contributors for this article, visit the corresponding history entry on Wikinews.

January 15, 2006

Stardust lands in Utah successfully

Stardust lands in Utah successfully – Wikinews, the free news source

Stardust lands in Utah successfully

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Sunday, January 15, 2006

An infrared camera captures a recovery helicopter at the landing site of the Stardust sample return capsule.

An infrared camera captures the Stardust sample return capsule as it descends to the Utah Test and Training Range.

Capsule after landing

“All stations, we have touchdown,” an announcer declared.

Stardust, a capsule carrying dust from Comet Wild 2, has landed safely in the Utah desert. It also is the first time in history that a space mission has brought back such material.

“The tiny particles that the Stardust mission is bringing back are the most scientifically exciting and technically challenging material that we have ever had the opportunity to study,” said Monica Grady of the Planetary and Space Science Research Institute (PSSRI).

When the landing was complete, it drew cheers from excited scientists.

“It’s an absolutely fantastic end to the mission,” said Carlton Allen of NASA’s Johnson Space Center.

“Everything worked so well. What an exciting moment,” said Allan Cheuvront, Stardust spacecraft engineer at Lockheed Martin Space Systems.

Many reports are stating from skywatchers, that sighted the speeding capsule as it shot across the sky over the western United States. “We saw it in the sky…it was great,” said Paula Nicholson, Public Affairs Officer at the U.S. Army Dugway Proving Ground.

In 2004, another collector capsule from another spacecraft, Genesis, which collected solar wind particles crashed into the Utah desert, however, the samples did not survive.

After the capsule landed, it activated its locator beacon and helicopter recovery crews successfully located the capsule in the dark. The capsule is reportedly intact from the helicopter observations, and the unofficial touch down time was 5:10 a.m. EST. It will be transferred to a “cleanroom” and is expected to be flown to Johnson Space Center early next week where the capsule will be unlocked for the first time since it landed.

When opened, scientists will find the microscopic dust particles trapped in a porous, pale-blue smokelike material known as aerogel made up of 99.8 percent air that was used to snag the dust in space.

The dust then will be looked at under a microscope to be examined and because this comet is nearly 5 billion years old, they hope it will unlock some of the secrets to the formation of our galaxy and universe.

The capsules speed when it was going through Earth’s atmosphere was a record breaking 29,000 mph, making it the fastest man-made probe to return to Earth. Its first parachute opened at nearly 100,000 feet from the ground where it was then guided to a 10-MPH landing in the desert.

The capsule also brought back with it 72 black-and-white pictures showing broad mesas, craters, pinnacles and canyons with flat floors on the surface of Wild 2, which was a staggering 500 million miles from Earth at the time Stardust was launched.

Stardust was launched in 1999 and its trip lasted over 7 years. Stardust traveled about 4.5 billion kilometers (2.88 billion miles), and went around the sun 3 times. In the end, a magnificent achievement for NASA and science in general.

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Related Wikinews

  • “Distributed computing to get “interstellar project”” — Wikinews, January 13, 2006
  • Comet Wild samples near home” — Wikinews, January 11, 2006

Sources


This text comes from Wikinews. Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 licence. For a complete list of contributors for this article, visit the corresponding history entry on Wikinews.

January 13, 2006

Distributed computing to get \”interstellar project\”

Distributed computing to get “interstellar project”

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Friday, January 13, 2006

Delta II 7426 with Stardust before launch, Cape Canaveral, February 1999.

NASA is awaiting the arrival of very precious cargo from space.

The Stardust Spacecraft is scheduled to land at around 5:12am (eastern time) on Sunday January 15, 2006. Onboard are dust particles that have been collected from the comet Wild 2.

When the capsule gets to Earth and enters the atmosphere, at about 5am (eastern time), it is expected to put on quite a light show for folks in Northern California, Oregon, Nevada, and Utah. The capsule will look much like a shooting star going across the sky. The capsule will be traveling at about 12.8 km or 8 miles per second, fast enough to go from San Francisco to Los Angeles in one minute. Stardust will set a new all-time record for being the fastest spacecraft to return to Earth, breaking the previous record set in May of 1969 during the return of the Apollo X command module. “It will move over the west coast of northern California and will light the sky from California through central Oregon and on through Nevada and Idaho and into Utah,” Tom Duxbury, Stardust’s project manager said.

The capsule will then release a parachute approximately 32 km (105,000 feet) and descend into the Salt Flats of Utah. If weather is permitting, it will be recovered by helicopter teams and taken to a cleanroom at the Michael Army Air Field, Dugway Proving Ground, for initial processing.

The capsule itself, only weighs 45.7 kilograms (101 pounds) and resembles a mini Apollo capsule.

Not only will it break the record for the fastest spacecraft to return to earth, Stardust Principal Investigator Don Brownlee of the University of Washington, Seattle, says “We are nearing the end of quite a fantastic voyage – our spacecraft has traveled further than anything from Earth ever has – and come back. He also added that “We went half-way to Jupiter to meet the comet and collect samples from it. But the comet actually came in from the outer edge of the solar system, out beyond the orbit of Neptune, out by Pluto.”

If the capsule makes it safely back to earth, scientists hope to unlock many secrets about the formation of our universe.

“Locked within the cometary particles is unique chemical and physical information that could be the record of the formation of the planets and the materials from which they were made,” said Dr. Don Brownlee, Stardust principal investigator at the University of Washington, Seattle.

“Comets are some of the most informative occupants of the solar system. The more we can learn from science exploration missions like Stardust, the more we can prepare for human exploration to the moon, Mars and beyond,” said Dr. Mary Cleave, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.

Aritist’s Impression

Stardust is bringing back the first samples of contemporary interstellar dust ever collected, and is also the first mission to return samples from a comet, as well as the first sample return mission from the Galaxy. Not one grain of contemporary interstellar dust grain has ever been examined in a laboratory before.

“We think a significant fraction of comets will be stardust particles actually older than Earth and older than the Sun, and for drama the stars, and the way you identify those is by their isotopic ratios,” Stardust Principal Investigator Don Brownlee said. “There are fabulous tools now to analyze these and a very anxious group of scientists waiting for these samples.”

Stardust’s main mission was to capture dust particles from comet Wild 2, but it is also believed to have captured dust from distant stars, perhaps created in supernova explosions less than 10 million years ago.

The dust can only be found using using a high-magnification microscope with a field of view smaller than a grain of salt.

But now they have the difficult task of trying to find all these millions of particles, which takes more time and man power that NASA has. That’s where NASA decided to try Distributed Computing.

Distributed computing has been a huge success. Most of the credit of the success of distributed computing, can be given to the scientists at the University of California, Berkeley. Scientists there have had and continue to have huge success with a program they created called SETI@home, which now uses the distributing platform BOINC.

With the success of BOINC and other distributed computing platforms, NASA hopes to achieve its goal in half the time with the public’s help by creating the project Stardust@home

“Like SETI@home, which is the world’s largest computer, we hope Stardust@home will also be a large computer, though more of a neural network, using brains together to find these grains,” said Bryan Mendez of the Center for Science Education at the Space Sciences Laboratory.

Stardust captured this picture of Comet Wild 2.

But, the project is not for everyone. First, you will go through a web-based training session and then you must pass a test to qualify to register and participate. In the test, the volunteer is asked to find the track in a few test samples. To judge the reliability of the user, they also plan to throw in some ringers with and without tracks.

If at least two of the four volunteers viewing each image report a track, that image will be fed to 100 more volunteers for verification. If at least 20 of these report a track, UC Berkeley undergraduates who are expert at spotting dust grain tracks will confirm the identification.

After passing the test and registering, you will be able to download a virtual microscope (VM). The VM will automatically connect to their server and download so-called “focus movies” — stacks of images that we will collect from the Stardust Interstellar Dust Collector using an automated microscope at the Cosmic Dust Lab at Johnson Space Center. The VM will work on your computer, under your control. You will search each field for interstellar dust impacts by focusing up and down with a focus control.

The other neat thing is that there are no limitations and the more images you examine, the better chance you have at finding an interstellar dust grain.

Any interstellar dust particles that you find, then you will appear as a co-author on any scientific paper by the Stardust@home collaboration announcing the discovery of the particle.

Currently the project is only accepting pre-registration and will be available to the public in mid-March, even before all the scans have been completed in a cleanroom at Houston’s Johnson Space Center. In all the project is expected to need at least 30,000 person hours, to go through all the images, at least 4 times by 4 different participants.

Berkeley will host and maintain the project, but it is unlcear as to whether or not the project will use the BOINC platform.

The virtual microscope was developed by computer scientist David Anderson, director of the SETI@home project, along with physics graduate student Joshua Von Korff.

The Stardust spacecraft was launched on February 7, 1999, from Cape Canaveral Air Station, Florida, aboard a Delta II rocket.

The Stardust project is expected to cost $170-million-dollars with a journey that will have lasted over 7 years and actually went around the Sun three times, and “back in time to 4.5 billion years in time to gather these primitive samples that just were released from a comet’s nucleus,” Duxbury later added.

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January 11, 2006

Comet Wild samples near home

Filed under: Archived,Comets,NASA,Space,Stardust Mission,United States — admin @ 5:00 am

Comet Wild samples near home – Wikinews, the free news source

Comet Wild samples near home

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Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Artist’s Impression

Stardust, a NASA space capsule carrying precious comet samples from deep space, is scheduled to return to earth January 15, 2006.

Scientists hope to discover new meaning to the beginning of our solar system.

Stardust’s 2.9 billion mile round-trip mission took it halfway to Jupiter to catch particles from Comet Wild 2 two years ago. Its journey will have lasted a total of just over seven years when it lands in the Utah desert.

On Sunday, the ship will remain in space while a 100-pound (45 kg) capsule loaded with comet dust returns to earth and lands at the U.S. Air Force Utah Test and Training Range at 3:12 a.m. local time (5:12 a.m. EST or 1012 GMT). If the skies are all clear on January 15, then people from Northern California, Oregon and Nevada could get quite a show as the capsule enters Earth’s atmosphere. The show will be quick, but should prove impressive.

Stardust EDL Groundtrack

Comets are thought to be remnants from the process of planet formation, and scientists said the dust collected by Stardust will give them their first opportunity to study pristine samples of materials formed billions of years ago. The particles from the comet were captured using a tennis-racket-sized space probe containing ice-cube sized compartments lined with aerogel, a porous substance that is 99.9 percent air. It is the first time since 1972 that any solid extraterrestrial material has been collected and brought back to Earth, and the first time ever for comet particles.

During its descent over the desert, the capsule is scheduled to deploy two parachutes, though NASA officials said they have prepared for the possibility of a hard landing. A NASA probe called Genesis crashed to Earth in 2004 when its parachute failed to open. That craft had been on a three-year mission to collect solar wind ions, which were recovered by scientists even though the spacecraft was destroyed.

Stardust’s project manager, Tom Duxbury, said that “after the Genesis incident and the Columbia shuttle disaster, the mission’s team spent six months testing and reviewing the spacecraft’s design to make sure there were no errors”. Once the craft is recovered, it will be whisked away to the Johnson Space Center in Houston. Only after it is in a secure lab, free of potential contamination, will the probe be pried open to reveal its payload.

“We are at the end of a fantastic voyage,” Don Brownlee, the lead scientist for the mission known as Stardust, recently told reporters at a media briefing. “We will learn a phenomenal amount… from the most primitive materials in our solar system. It is a real thrilling time.” Now, near the end of its long voyage home, the probe is set to plunge back to Earth in the predawn hours on Sunday.

Related news

  • “Distributed computing to get “interstellar project”” — Wikinews, January 13, 2005

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July 4, 2005

NASA\’s Deep Impact probe strikes comet successfully

NASA’s Deep Impact probe strikes comet successfully

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Monday, July 4, 2005

Deep Impact’s collision with comet

NASA‘s Deep Impact probe collided with the comet Tempel 1 on Monday, as intended by scientists. The collision took place at 5:45 UTC and NASA held a press briefing shortly after at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, NASA’s non-manned space flight control center. A full-fledged press conference by NASA is scheduled to be at JPL on Monday afternoon at 2 p.m. PDT (9:00 UTC).

The experiment, intending to provide more information about the make up of comets, consisted of a 370 kg projectile being fired at the comet in order to observe and analyse the resultant impact. With information gleaned from the impact, the comet’s general make-up can be established and more accurate hypotheses regarding how the Solar system and the universe came to be.

Background

Deep Impact is a NASA space probe designed to study the composition of the interior of a comet. Previous space missions to comets, such as Giotto and Stardust, were merely fly-by missions, only able to photograph and examine the surfaces of cometary nuclei. The Deep Impact mission will be the first to examine a cometary interior, and thus, scientists hope, reveal new secrets about these small frozen bodies.

Mission profile

Deep Impact mission team members celebrating a successful encounter with comet Tempel 1.

Following its launch on January 12, 2005, the Deep Impact spacecraft took 174 days to reach Comet Tempel 1 at a cruising speed of 103,000 kilometers per hour (64,000 miles per hour). Once the spacecraft reached the vicinity of the comet on July 3, 2005, it separated into two portions, an impactor and a flyby probe. The impactor used its thrusters to move into the path of the comet, impacting 24 hours later at a relative speed of 37,000 kilometers per hour. The impactor has a mass of 370 kilograms and approached Tempel 1 with a relative speed of 10.30 kilometers per second (6.3 miles per second), thus delivering 1.96 × 1010 joules of kinetic energy, the equivalent of 4.5 tons of TNT. Scientists believe that the energy of this high-velocity collision will be sufficient to excavate a crater up to 100 meters wide (larger than the bowl of the Roman Colosseum), although the crater has not yet been spotted in post-impact images because the cloud of debris is obscuring the view.

Just minutes after the impact, the flyby probe passed by the nucleus at a close distance of 500 km, taking pictures of the crater position, the ejecta plume, and the entire cometary nucleus. The entire event was photographed by Earth-based telescopes and orbital observatories, such as the Hubble, Chandra, Spitzer and XMM-Newton. In addition, the impact was observed by cameras and spectroscopes on board Europe’s Rosetta spacecraft, which was about 80 million km from the comet at the time of impact. Rosetta should determine the composition of the gas and dust cloud kicked up by the impact. [1]

The total Deep Impact mission cost is US$330 million.

Scientific goals

The Deep Impact mission will help answer fundamental questions about comets, such as:

  • Is the composition of a cometary nucleus the same throughout, or has some physical process caused the interior to become differentiated from the surface? In other words, is the nucleus layered?
  • Are cometary nuclei highly cohesive and tightly-packed, or porous conglomerates?
  • Do any parts of a cometary nucleus contain pristine material that have been untouched since the creation of the comet during the Solar System’s early history?

Scientists hope that these questions will be answered, at least in part, by data from the Deep Impact mission. For example, the size and shape of the crater produced by the impact will tell scientists how well-packed the cometary material is.

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