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Space NASA

Spacecraft Returns Seven Particles From Birth of the Solar System 48

Posted by Soulskill
from the science-by-mote dept.
sciencehabit writes "After a massive, years-long search, researchers have recovered seven interstellar dust particles returned to Earth by the Stardust spacecraft. The whole sample weighs just a few trillionths of a gram, but it's the first time scientists have laid their hands on primordial material unaltered by the violent birth of the solar system. Once the sample panel was back on Earth, the problem quickly became finding any collected particles embedded in the aerogel. Out of desperation, Stardust team members called on 30,714 members of the general public. The 'dusters' of the Stardust@home project volunteered to examine microscopic images taken down through the aerogel. They used the world's best pattern-recognition system — the human eye and brain — to pick out the telltale tracks left by speeding particles."
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Spacecraft Returns Seven Particles From Birth of the Solar System

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  • by rts008 (812749) on Friday March 21, 2014 @04:26PM (#46546875) Journal

    FTA:

    Two particles weighing in at about 3 trillionths of a gram each...[...]...âoeIt would be very easy to lose them.â

    Well, not quite ready for 'Night at the Improv', worth a grin anyhow.

    Only two particles out of only seven impacts, over 200 days shows just how 'empty'[1] space really is.

    [1] 'empty' space can be surprisingly a deceptive statement in astrophysics, though...:-)

    Gah, slashcode mangled the double parenthesis again!
    When do we get proper unicode support?

    • by MacTO (1161105) on Friday March 21, 2014 @05:24PM (#46547239)

      Empty? We are talking about the Solar System here. Even if you ignore the Sun and planets, this place is remarkably full. This sample from STARDUST demonstrates just how incredibly full it is.

      (No sarcasm intended. A lot of the matter out there is in the form of an incredibly tenuous gas rather than particles.)

      • by rts008 (812749)

        You apparently overlooked the '...' around 'empty', and the note[1], where I said that 'empty' is a deceptive description of space to astrophysisists.

        What I was alluding to was the average Joe picturing vast volumes of space as being empty of stuff that can be detected with the human eye in context to TFA talking about using the human eye and brain in searching out these particles collected in the aerogell.

        As far as space being actually mostly empty, that is not true. it is chock full of stuff, mostly requi

    • by cellocgw (617879)

      Only two particles out of only seven impacts, over 200 days shows just how 'empty'[1] space really is.

      Here's hoping I recover some nerdcred after yesterday's Sherlock/Mycroft disaster:

      "We Analyze Nothing."

  • by PopeRatzo (965947) on Friday March 21, 2014 @04:38PM (#46546943) Homepage Journal

    I've got dust particles from the origin of the solar system under my bed.

    I'm pretty sure that was the last time anybody cleaned under there.

    • by Laxori666 (748529)
      Since matter is neither created nor destroyed - it merely changes shape - everything is as old as the universe. We are all stardust.
  • What will they do with the particles once they locate them? What sort of useful information could you glean or experiments could you perform on something like that?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I used to be a space freak, since moderated by more practical concerns. But if there's ever going to be an interstellar flight by a probe, we must understand the hazards of near-relativistic flight. One hazard is the impact of the average interstellar dust grain. We need to understand what the "average interstellar dust grain" is. I've done some calculations on what's understood so far, and a manned flight seems prohibitive, since it would have to be going so fast (0.3-0.8 of c) that the energy delivery of

      • I used to be a space freak, since moderated by more practical concerns.

        Translation: My wife doesn't allow that shit any more.

        But if there's ever going to be an interstellar flight by a probe, we must understand the hazards of near-relativistic flight. One hazard is the impact of the average interstellar dust grain. We need to understand what the "average interstellar dust grain" is. I've done some calculations on what's understood so far, and a manned flight seems prohibitive, since it would have to be going so fast (0.3-0.8 of c) that the energy delivery of the average dust grain is really catastrophic. I really can't imagine what sort of shield that can be constructed that would allow that sort of energy delivery in such a tiny cross-section to be dispersed in such a way that spares the crew as well as the ship's basic structure. I've been trying to find the early publications of the British Interplanetary Society for certain articles, largely without success (for free or a modest fee, anyway), to locate articles making claims about erosion-shield construction. I find their claims (via other publications quoting them) to be specious and I'm hungry to know more.

        And that's too bad, because it sounds like you have something to contribute.

      • perhaps several feet of Aerogel, with electric reactive armour underneath that? Or some type of meta-material that can "channel" the impact energy towards a non ship impacting angle. It doesn't have to miss the ship by much, and if we had some weird lattice structure that could deflect the momentum just enough so it misses...but yeah, anything going that fast will probably need a few hundred feet thick armour encasing it, especially if we're sending a ship into another solar system. If your going any sig
      • by cellocgw (617879)

        . I really can't imagine what sort of shield that can be constructed that would allow that sort of energy delivery in such a tiny cross-section to be dispersed in such a way that spares the crew as well as the ship's basic structure.

        I believe Scotty would like a word or two with you. Are you the same fellow who called his ship a garbage scow?

      • I really can't imagine what sort of shield that can be constructed that would allow that sort of energy delivery in such a tiny cross-section to be dispersed in such a way that spares the crew as well as the ship's basic structure.

        The ship will need fuel for its fusion reactor, which will most likely be deuterium. Deuterium freezes at about 18K, and deep space is about 4K. So you can use the big chunk of frozen D2 as your shield. For a large crewed colony ship, this would be millions, or even billions of tonnes of D2. Another idea is to put your reactor right on the nose of your space ship. Then instead of using a tokamak or inertial confinement, you use the impact of the incoming gas/particles to induce fusion.

        • you use the impact of the incoming gas/particles to induce fusion.

          Very clever, but how do you get started?

  • The microscopic images shown are roughly double the width of the average human hair (170 um). And the dust particle you are looking for in that picture is about the diameter of a human red blood cell (7 um).

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