Thursday, September 02, 2004

Stardust Probe to Reveal AntiMatter Source? - 500 days to go

A mass of data collected in the course of the encounter between the Starburts probe and the comet Wild-2 on 2 January 2004 including about 70 images.

"These images are better than we had hoped for in our wildest dreams," said Ray Newburn, a co-investigator for Stardust. "They will help us better understand the mechanisms that drive conditions on comets."

"We've collected dust from a comet and we're bringing it home for analysis in laboratories all over the world."

Dust from Wild-2 was scooped up by a robotic collector filled with aerogel - a very low-density glass - and stowed inside a sample-return capsule. This will be delivered to Earth on 15 January, 2006.

If the return works, the particles would represent the second robotic retrieval of extraterrestrial material since 1976, when the unmanned Soviet Luna 24 mission brought back samples of rock and soil from the Moon. The first Nasa's Genesis spacecraft should be the first one back come September, when it returns samples of the solar wind it has collected in space.

"Comets are made of ice and are very cold and have been very cold since they were formed," said Dr Simon Green, an Open University, UK, scientist on the Stardust project.

"That protects the material of which they were made from any process of heating, so they haven't been changed since they were formed, right at the beginning of the formation of the Solar System.

"So we can have almost a little time capsule of what things were like 4.5 billion years ago."

"Another big surprise was the abundance and behavior of jets of particles shooting up from the comet's surface. We expected a couple of jets, but saw more than two dozen in the brief flyby," said Dr. Benton Clark, chief scientist of space exploration systems, Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver.

Findings from a historic encounter between NASA's Stardust spacecraft and a comet have revealed a much stranger world than previously believed. The comet's rigid surface, dotted with towering pinnacles, plunging craters, steep cliffs, and dozens of jets spewing violently, has surprised scientists.

Some people have suggested comets may contain significant quantities of antimatter when compared to Earth.


Nasa Stardust Probe minisite:

BBC Article: