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January 11, 2011

Moon water possibly originated from comets, data shows

Moon water possibly originated from comets, data shows

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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

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Water on the moon may have originated from comets, a new study shows.
Image: Luc Viatour.

Data from recent detailed analyses of samples collected on NASA Apollo moon missions, released Sunday, show that Lunar water may originate from comets that collided with the moon early in its geologic history.

A team of astrophysicists led by James Greenwood of Wesleyan University in Connecticut analyzed samples collected on the Apollo 11, 12, 14, and 17 missions and found that the chemical properties of traces of lunar water in these samples differ from water typical of Earth.

“The values of deuterium/hydrogen (D/H) that we measure in apatite in the Apollo rock samples”, Greenwood told Space.com, “is clearly distinguishable from water from the Earth, mitigating against this being some sort of contamination on Earth.” Greenwood and his team of researchers studied in particular the variations of hydrogen in the mineral apatite.

The newfound data show that the chemical properties of water in the apatite samples resemble data from the comets Hale-Bopp, Halley, and Hyakutake, suggesting that the water present on the moon could have originated from these comets or others.

According to Greenwood, the results of this study could also provide evidence as to the origin of water on Earth.



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July 12, 2010

Rosetta spacecraft passes Lutetia asteroid

Rosetta spacecraft passes Lutetia asteroid

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Monday, July 12, 2010

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The Rosetta spacecraft.
Image: IanShazell.

The unmanned Rosetta spacecraft made its closest approach to the Lutetia asteroid Saturday. Rosetta flew within 3,162 kilometers of the asteroid. The spacecraft took high-resolution photos and searched for traces of an atmosphere and magnetic effects. It also studied the composition and mass of the asteroid.

“As Rosetta drew close, a giant bowl-shaped depression stretching across much of the asteroid rotated into view,” said Holger Sierks of the Max Planck Institute, “The images confirm that Lutetia is an elongated body, with its longest side around 130 kilometers. I think this is a very old object. Tonight we have seen a remnant of the Solar System’s creation.” Around 400 photographs were taken during the flyby; however, it will take several days for in-depth data to be transferred to Earth.

“Little is known about asteroid Lutetia other than it is about 100 kilometers (62 miles) wide,” says American project scientist Claudia Alexander, “Allowing Rosetta’s suite of science instruments to focus on this target of opportunity should greatly expand our knowledge of this huge space rock, while at the same time giving the mission’s scientific instruments a real out-of-this-world workout.”

The Lutetia asteroid is the largest asteroid yet visited by a spacecraft. Throughout its 4.5 billion year lifespan, its surface has been bombarded repeatedly by other space debris. Very little is known about the asteroid and scientists hope that this flyby will help determine the asteroid’s origin. They hope to make their findings public at the Europlanet conference in Rome, Italy, late this September.

The Rosetta spacecraft, a project led by the European Space Agency, flew by the asteroid on its way to the Churyumov-Gerasimenko comet. Launched in 2004, the spacecraft is expected to arrive at its final destination in 2014. Once there, it will deploy the Philae lander to explore the comet’s surface. The spacecraft’s visit to this asteroid marks the final major scientific milestone before it is put into hibernation mode to be reactivated in 2011.



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October 7, 2009

New ring discovered around Saturn, could explain dark side of its moon

New ring discovered around Saturn, could explain dark side of its moon

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Wednesday, October 7, 2009

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An artist’s impression of the newly discovered ring, with Saturn shown at its centre.
Image: NASA.

Astronomers have found a huge new ring around the planet Saturn. The faint dust ring extends up to 7.4 million miles (12 million km) from the planet and could fit over a billion Earths inside it, making it the largest in the Solar System. It could also solve a mystery about one of Saturn’s moons that has puzzled scientists for centuries.

The ring was found with the help of NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, with details published today in the journal Nature. It is thought to consist of ice and dust from Saturn’s moon Phoebe, which is kicked up by collisions with comets and then drifts in towards the planet. The ring and moon both orbit in a plane inclined at 27 degrees to the other rings.

“This is one supersized ring,” said Dr Anne Verbiscer of the University of Virginia, one of the authors of the paper. Of Saturn’s other rings, the largest is the E-ring, a mere 150,000 miles (240,000 km) in diameter. Jupiter also has “gossamer rings” of a similar diameter to the E-ring. If the Phoebe ring was visible from Earth, it would appear twice as large in the sky as the full Moon.

However the newly found ring is extremely faint. It is made up of dust particles around 10 microns (thousandths of a millimetre) in size, and according to Verbiscer, “In a cubic km of space, there are all of 10-20 particles.” This explains why it has evaded discovery until now. “If you were standing in the ring itself, you wouldn’t even know it.”

The discovery could explain the two-tone appearance of Iapetus, shown here in an image from the Cassini space probe.
Image: NASA.

The Phoebe ring does not reflect much visible light, but the Spitzer telescope was able to pick up the dust’s faint infra-red glow. The telescope, launched in 2003, orbits the Sun and is roughly 66 million miles (107 million km) from Earth. It is one of NASA’s four Great Observatories.

The discovery could also finally account for the unusual appearance of Iapetus, another of the planet’s moons. When Iapetus was first observed in 1671 by astronomer Giovanni Cassini, its leading side was seen to be much darker than the other. Until now scientists had been unsure why this was. Now it is thought that the moon orbits in the opposite direction to the ring, and as Iapetus moves through the ring, dust builds up on its front surface. Verbiscer likens it to “bugs on a windshield.”

“Astronomers have long suspected that there is a connection between Saturn’s outer moon Phoebe and the dark material on Iapetus,” said Douglas Hamilton, another author of the paper. The material has been found to have a similar composition to Phoebe’s surface. “This new ring provided convincing evidence of that relationship.”

This is the second major discovery for astronomers studying Saturn in the past month. In September, evidence from the Cassini orbiter showed that Saturn’s other rings were far less flat than expected.



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May 15, 2009

ESA launches Herschel Space Observatory and Planck Satellite

ESA launches Herschel Space Observatory and Planck Satellite

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Friday, May 15, 2009

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The Herschel Space Observatory and Planck Satellite were both launched Thursday by an Ariane 5ECA rocket at around 1pm (UTC) by the European Space Agency (ESA) from the Guiana Space Centre. The two telescopes valued at €1.9 billion (£1.7bn) were launched from Kourou, French Guiana, a department of France in South America.

File:Planck satellite.jpg

Planck Satellite
(Image missing from commons: image; log)

“The technology onboard these satellites is unique, and the science these satellites will do is fantastic,” said Jean-Jacques Dordain director-general at the ESA, “This is the result of many years’ hard work by thousands of scientists and engineers across Europe.”

Herschel was released 26 minutes after launch to continue on its trajectory. Two minutes later, the Planck observatory separated. The Planck telescope is a survey telescope using Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) measurements of the microwave portion of the electromagnetic spectrum.

“It [Planck] will allow us to pin down all the basic characteristics of the Universe with very high accuracy – its age, its contents, how it evolved, its geometry, etc.” said Dr Jan Tauber, project scientist at ESA.

File photo of Ariane (rocket) launched from the Guiana Space Centre on 10 August 1992.

The larger space telescope is named after William Herschel who discovered the planet Uranus in 1781. The Herschel telescope will use infrared radiation and its main reflector mirror at a diameter of 3.5 meter (11.5 ft) is one-and-a-half-times larger than that on the Hubble Telescope.

The Heterodyne Instrument for the Far Infrared (HIFI) will also be able to detect carbon, water and oxygen in star-forming areas of space and examine the chemical composition of comets. The Photodetector Array Camera (PACS) and Spectrometer and the Spectral and Photometric Imaging Receiver (SPIRE) will correlate the images. The Herschel will also be equipped with heat detecting instrumentation. The Herschel space telescope will be operational for three to five years.

“These space missions are outstanding feats of engineering. Herschel is the largest telescope we have ever put into space and the instruments on Planck will operate at just a tenth of a degree above absolute zero,” said Lord Drayson, the United Kingdom’s science minister, “This is really cool science happening at mind-blowingly low temperatures, helping to answer some of the basic questions about the history of the universe.”

“Herschel is going to help us understand much, much better how stars form right now and how they have been forming throughout billions of years of cosmic history” said Göran Pilbratt, Herschel’s project scientist at ESA, “We’re going to see the [star] embryos, the ones that are not born yet. We’re going to see right into the wombs where stars are born.”



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February 23, 2009

New comet to be visible to naked eye for several days

New comet to be visible to naked eye for several days

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Monday, February 23, 2009

Comet Lulin in January and February 2009.
Image: Joseph Brimacombe, Cairns, Australia.

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For the next few days, a newly discovered, green-tinted comet will be visible by the naked eye in most parts of the Northern Hemisphere. Comet Lulin, with the official designation of C/2007 N3, was discovered in 2007 and astronomers say that this is the first time it has visited our solar system and may well be the last.

As it makes its way around the Sun, an astonishing 800 gallons (3 m3) of water will evaporate from the comet every second. In each 15 minute period, it will shed enough water to fill an Olympic sized swimming pool. It will come within 38 million miles of Earth at its closest pass, making it visible to the naked eye and even clearer with binoculars or a telescope.

The best viewing time for people living in the northern hemisphere is after midnight when Lulin will be at its highest point in the sky, or 40 degrees from the morning horizon. Current estimates peg the maximum brightness at 4th or 5th magnitude, which means dark country skies would be required to see it. No one can say for sure, however, because this is Lulin’s first visit.

Astronomers from NASA and the United Kingdom will use the Swift Telescope to study the comet and its composition. Astronomers also say to see it while you can because this could be the first and only time it passes through our solar system. It’s estimated that if it returns, it will not be for another 1,000,000 years.

“We won’t be able to send a space probe to [the comet], but Swift is giving us some of the information we would get from just such a mission,” said Jenny Carter, at the University of Leicester in England, who is leading the study.

The comet was discovered using the Lulin Observatory in Taiwan by astronomers Ye Quanzhi and Lin Chi-Sheng.



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October 27, 2007

Unexpected comet \’outburst\’ could be visible for weeks

Filed under: Archived,Comets,Science and technology,Space,World — admin @ 5:00 am

Unexpected comet ‘outburst’ could be visible for weeks

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Saturday, October 27, 2007

Comet Holmes photographed on Oct 25,2007, 7:19 UT from Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Image: Tomruen.

If you’ve noticed a fuzzy yellowish object at night in the northeast sky, immediately to the left of the constellation Perseus, that’s because it is the Comet Holmes which has suddenly gotten brighter in what scientists say is “absolutely unprecedented” in comet research.

Earlier reports were that the object might have been a star that went super nova, or that a new star might have formed, but because the comet does not have a tail, the earlier reports were later dismissed.

“This is a terrific outburst, and since it doesn’t have a tail right now, some observers have confused it with a nova. We’ve had at least two reports of a new star. When the Deep Impact probe hit Comet 9P Tempel, there was almost no change in brightness. This outburst by Comet Holmes is extreme!” said Minor Planet Center director, Brian Marsden.

Not more than a few days ago, the comet began to get brighter and appear larger in the sky, in what scientists call an “outburst.” The comet is usually only visible through telescopes, but the outburst has caused it to be visible through the naked eye and it will continue to grow brighter with its coma eventually reaching the size of The Moon. Currently, only people living in the Northern Hemisphere are able to get a glimpse of the show. Binoculars and a small telescope can be used to get a close up view.

Orbit of Comet Holmes.
Image: Tomruen.

The comet took just 24 hours to get more than 400,000 times brighter than it usually is, and is currently over one million times brighter, but Marsden says the comet’s brightness could dim in days or even weeks.

The comet was discovered on November 6, 1892 by Edwin Holmes while he was looking at the Andromeda Galaxy through his telescope. Researchers say that the comet may also have had an outburst at the time it was discovered. It was seen once after that in 1899 and then 1906, but disappeared until it was “rediscovered” in 1964 after a prediction Marsden had made.

“Since then, it’s been behaving well – until now,” added Marsden.



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January 20, 2007

Kuiper Belt object to become comet in approx. 2 million years

Kuiper Belt object to become comet in approx. 2 million years

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Saturday, January 20, 2007

2003 EL61.

A Kuiper Belt object just outside our solar system is on its way to becoming a new comet, possibly a very bright-looking one.

The object, 2003 EL61, is currently in the shape of a potato, is roughly the size of Pluto, and rotates on its axis every 4 hours. The top layer of the object is covered in a thin layer of an ice like substance and has a rocky center. Simulations show that the object is in an unstable orbit.

According to California Institute of Technology Professor Mike Brown, the object may enter Neptune‘s gravity, causing 2003 EL61 to be shot into interstellar space, or the inner solar system to become a comet. In the latter case, the object, because of nearing the sun, will begin to melt and a tail would form behind it.

“If you came back in two million years, EL61 could well be a comet. When it becomes a comet, it will be the brightest we will ever see,” said Brown.

Brown also says that nearly 4.5 billion years ago, the object was made of half rock and half ice. Sometime after the object’s birth, an object slammed into it causing most of the ice inside it to be broken off. The pieces to be broken off then became satellites, which are believed to be made of very pure water-ice.

Pieces of the object may currently be inside our solar system, already forming to become comet material.

“It’s a bit like the story of Mercury. Mercury got hit by a large object early in the Solar System. It left mostly a big iron core, with a little bit of rock on the outside. This is mostly a rock core with a little bit of ice on the outside,” added Brown.

But don’t expect to get a light show from this object in the near future. Brown estimates that the comet will form in about 2 million years, but will be visible from Earth.

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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!

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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

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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.

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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?

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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

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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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