Finally, NASA Had A Good Week
Is it possible for a scientist to be giddy? That's quite
possible... especially if that scientist is on the team examining
cometary particles brought back to Earth by NASA's Stardust
"It exceeded all of our grandest expectations," said Donald
Brownlee from the University of Washington, Seattle, as well as
chief investigator for the mission. "We should have more than one
million particles larger than one micron in diameter."
A micron is a millionth of a meter... small to most, but huge in
the scientific community.
When the Stardust probe flew through the tail of the Wild 2
comet, those particles were captured in a dust collector, similar
in size and shape to a handball racket. The collector was filled
with silica aerogel, which is the lightest man-made material known
-- so light, the collector was able to trap the fast-moving
interstellar particles without vaporizing them.
Next up for the team will be to remove the particles from the
aerogel, according to investigator Mike Zolensky. Eventually, the
particles will be sent to scientists around the world to be
"We'll start with
analyses that are nondestructive," said Zolensky to Bloomberg News.
"You can look at samples still in the aerogel and look at the broad
chemistry and mineralogy to some degree. Then we'll extract them
and see more and more detailed and destructive analyses," including
slicing the particles into pieces, he said.
Scientists hope the particles will show the composition of Wild
2, and possibly even give humanity insight into how the solar
The initial results will be announced in March.
As was reported in Aero-News,
the Stardust capsule landed safely in the Utah desert the morning
of January 15, after completing the 2.1 billion-mile round trip to
Wild 2 and back, that took just under seven years to complete. The
spacecraft that carried Stardust along for the ride is now heading
to orbit around the sun.
For all its recent hardships, it can't be denied NASA had a good
week. With the successful return of Stardust -- along with Thursday's launch of the New
Horizons probe -- those at NASA who
needed a victory received two, and high-profile ones at
Well done, everybody. You showed NASA can still get
the job done.