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Space Science

Collecting Stardust 147

An anonymous reader writes "Washington University in St. Louis space scientists are reporting the first definitive laboratory dissection of an interstellar dust particle, thus pulling out each grain's history individually. When collected at high-altitude, the origin of six grains are from outside our solar system. 'Space' is full of dust, or ejected material from long-dead stars. In this case, 3 of the 6 dust grains are from red giant stars, and perhaps 2 are from supernovae. In the next 5 years, there are six missions targeting a rendezvous with either a comet or asteroid, including the Stardust mission to return the first extraterrestrial samples since Apollo. That only leaves 100 billion comets left to explore in our own solar system's Oort cloud." Update: 02/28 17:22 GMT by M : Fixed university name.
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Collecting Stardust

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  • Correction (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 28, 2003 @12:48PM (#5406819)
    You mean Washington University in St. Louis...

    *not* "University of Washington"
    • As a Wash U alumnus(sp?), all I have to say is if I had a dollar for every time someone confused Washington University in St. Louis with the University of Washington or even George Washington University, I'd be on my way to the International Space Station right now...
    • Re:Correction (Score:2, Informative)

      by vortigern00 ( 443602 )
      Anyone who does not regognize Washington University in St. Louis immediately dates themselves as a net newbie...

      It doesn't seem like long ago that wuarchive.wustl.edu was the definitive source of stuff on the net.

      ...and zurich.ai.mit.edu was the definitive source of... other stuff :)

      -Vort
  • by choctawgh ( 652121 ) on Friday February 28, 2003 @12:48PM (#5406820)
    In other news, David Bowie is suing for patent infringement, claiming he IS stardust... ok, so it's weak......I'm tired and the coffee maker is broken ;)
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 28, 2003 @12:49PM (#5406826)
    Sadly, the sorting and cataloguing procedure was halted today after an inattentive graduate student sneezed the entire collection over the lab
  • by cbowland ( 205263 ) on Friday February 28, 2003 @12:49PM (#5406832)
  • I gotta ask... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by gpinzone ( 531794 )
    How the heck do they know that the dust is from a whole 'nother solar system?
    • If dust is from diffrent stars then wouldn't it be obvious that its from a diffrent solar system?
      • So...how do they know it's dust from a star? Sounds like a lot of assumptions are being made.
        • Our star has a very specific make-up from other stars. If the age and/or make up of particles is different....

        • Re:I gotta ask... (Score:3, Informative)

          by Andy_R ( 114137 )
          according to the article...

          "Using the NanoSIMS probe, the Washington University investigators then
          measured the relative amounts of two isotopes of oxygen in more than a
          thousand grains from nine interplanetary dust particles. The data told them which grains had come from stars."
    • They find the isotope of element 36 in solid form which does not occur on earth at normal temperatures and pressures. If you hold this material next some kinds of aliens, it makes them weak and eventually kills them.
    • They don't. They don't have any way of knowing it's from another solar system, since they have never been in another solar system.

      Most of modern astrophysics isn't scientific, in fact. Unversal expansion, etc. are theories based on microwave radiation coming from all directions, assumed to be coming from distant stars everywhere. Of course, that's just bull (scientifically speaking). We have no way of knowing whether the radiation is just inherent to our solar system, galaxy, or even planet. In fact, it is most likely that the instruments themselves are the problem. Science is based on parsimony, and unfortunately, these are far more simple explanations than 'The whole universe is doing it'. Essentially, there are WAY too many sources of error here. We don't have data from anywhere but here, so observer bias (everyone on Earth would only constitue one observer, as we're all in the same situation), is way too likely in these cases.

      I had picked up Stephen Hawkings' "A Brief History of Time" from the library, but stopped reading it once I realized there wasn't really anything more than fantasy involved. They're trying so hard to get answers that they've forgotten they don't have any solid base for their work.
      • I had picked up Stephen Hawkings' "A Brief History of Time" from the library, but stopped reading it...

        Do a google for stephen-hawking-a-brief-history-of-time.pdf and download a copy. It's easily found and worth reading in full.
      • Most of modern astrophysics isn't scientific, in fact.

        As someone who studied astrophysics at university, I can honestly say that statement is just bull. Yes, astrophysics is mainly a theoretical science, but that doesn't make the science any less valid.

        The fact that you couldn't get through reading A Brief History Of Time without dismissing its contents as "anything more than fantasy" suggests to me that you're the kind of person who doens't have the capacity for anything other than simple thought.

        I'll ask you two simple questions that illustrate just how dependent science in general is on theories:

        Q: How do you know that the Earth is round? (Ie, how can you prove it?)

        Q: How do you know that gravity exists? (Again, prove its existance.)

        Observational astronomy has helped astrophysicists prove and refine their theories. Want proof of the effect of gravity on light as predicted by Einstein's Theory of General Relativity? Then just look at gravitational lensing caused by the Sun. Etc, etc.

        Astrophysics may be a relatively new science (it's less than a hundred years old) but it's backed up by astronomy (the oldest science) pretty damn well.
        • Firstly, don't attack me as not having "capacity for anything other than simple thought". That kind of name calling has no place in a scientific discussion.

          I don't think theoretical sciences deserve the same status as pure sciences. Psychology is my field, and I find anything other than behaviorism (the purely scientific arm of pyschology) to be far less valid. I work with cognitive processes, and don't regard psychotherapy as scientific. If you want to call it a "Theoretical Science" go right ahead, but realize that once you have to qualify it, you're diluting it.

          "illustrate just how dependent science in general is on theories"

          I think you missed my point. Theories are all that matter in science, as I am well aware. My problem with astrophysics is their lack of solid footing. Evolutionary theory can be easily backed up by observations, that's a very important feature. In astrophysics, your observations are on the same arm as your predictions. The lack of independence is a rather large stumbling block. If you have gotten a basic point (or an equation, etc) wrong, your 'observations' will be affected as well.

          If you really want me to answer your questions, I can do so, but I don't think they're really relevant.

          "Observational astronomy has helped astrophysicists prove and refine their theories. Want proof of the effect of gravity on light as predicted by Einstein's Theory of General Relativity? Then just look at gravitational lensing caused by the Sun. Etc, etc."

          You cannot prove anything, that's one of the most basic scientific principles. You can support theories, but never wholly be certain of anything. Observational astronomy's effects on astophysicists isn't relevant. Vision lends support to biologists, but that's not particularly significant on its own. As for Einstein's Theory of General Relativity, I think it's pretty good, but it seems to break down at extremes. Again, many 'observations' lending support are more mathematical than evidentual.

          I'm not damning physics or all of astrophysics, either. All I'm saying is that far too much of it is based on very loose ground. Black holes seem to have too little support, while gravity and planetary motion are backed up very well.
          • i would respond to everything in both your posts, but, wow, you're...uhh, my head hurts. how you can say this stuff...i'll just nit pick on one thing:

            Psychology is my field, and I find anything other than behaviorism (the purely scientific arm of pyschology) to be far less valid.
            behaviorism has all the same problems you point out in astrophysics. first, there is observer bias (all observers are humans, and they are studying humans themselves). in order to truly observe human behavior qua the phenomenon of human behavior you would need a non-human observer capable of making observations in non-human terms. secondly, only a very, very, small statistical sample can ever be observed in a scientific manner, unless you can show me a way to study the behavior of 6,000,000,000+ people in a laboratory setting.
      • OK, I know its a troll, but I've been sucked in anyway. Let me try to answer two of your points.

        They don't. They don't have any way of knowing it's from another solar system, since they have never been in another solar system.

        I've never been to a different continent. I have a stuffed goldfish that's from a different continent. I can tell by reading its tag. Yes, really. It could have been made here, but that would mean that it was sold with a fake tag, which is very unlikely given the effort required to produce one, and without a legitimate tag, because someone would have had to remove the original, which is unlikely because I see no evidence of that. Likewise, the dust particles have tags (oxygen isotope ratios). To have a very different ratio would require a great deal of effort, along the lines of a naturally occuring gaseous diffusion isotope seperator, plus any deposits of oxygen atoms at the original ratio would have to be removed, which would also leave evidence.

        We have no way of knowing whether the [background microwave] radiation is just inherent to our solar system, galaxy, or even planet. In fact, it is most likely that the instruments themselves are the problem.

        Let's first assume that the radiation comes from a spherical shell that surrounds us. If the shell enclosed just our planet, we would see minor changes in intensity at different altitudes. If it enclosed just our solar system, we would see minor changes in intensity as we orbited the sun. If it enclosed just our galaxy, we would see minor directional changes in intensity as look in different directions (since we aren't at the galatic center). Now let's assume that the radiation comes from a fog that we're embedded within. In this case, we would see the radiation even when looking at something that would block it (the moon, distant galaxies, etc), but we don't. Finally, if the instruments are the problem, we would see differences as we used different instruments.

        • First, your tag analogy doesn't really make much sense in this instance. If there was a tag that said 'Made in ---', where would you think it was from? You wouldn't know. When we collect stardust, it doens't have a big 'Alpha Centari' tag on it. Our decision that something is from another galaxy is based on the particle's composition and our assumptions about different locales and objects in the sky. We get radiation and assume that we completely understand it and therefore know precisely what the body that emitted it was composed of. That's a stretch.

          We don't know if, say, Neptune, has some quirk that causes it to produce these particles. That's a very real and very valid issue (don't say we'd see it all coming from Neptune's direction, since it might be affected by, say, magnetic fields, etc).

          Also, in nature the word "effort" has no meaning. It doesn't take the Sun any effort to produce heat, it just does it.

          As for the your explanation about locale, you did a very good job, I must say. Those are points I had yet to consider, yet do not dissolve my position. If the 'fog' were a part of the 'empty space' in our galaxy (solar sytems and stars could have sucked up patched surrounding them), we would see the exact same phenomena. If the particles only travel a certain distance (i.e. destabilize after being emitted), and the waves as well (i.e. pulled apart by magnetic fields), how would we know it? It is entirely possible that the waves and particles we're getting in have been changed in some way by entering our galaxy (or solar system, etc), as well.

          If the instruments were all well constructed along the same lines, we would see this effect, rather than see differences between them. As far as I know, the same technologies and equations are behind them all.
          • My tag analogy makes lots of sense. I don't know which country my stuffed animal is from, because I can't read the label. I can, however, tell that the label isn't from any country using the Latin character set. Likewise, we can't tell what star created the dust particles, but we can tell that it isn't from around here.

            The only planet in our solar system that could be the source of either particles or radiation such as you describe would be Pluto. We've sent robots to all of the others without seeing anything such as you describe. When you can provide a mechanism that explains how a cold object that's closer in size to an asteroid than a planet could do this, people will listen. Also, those robots have also mapped the solar systems magnetic fields, so the idea that magnetic fields somehow redirect point-source radiation to appear to come from all directions equally doesn't hold water, either. As for non-magnetic fields, gravity fields large enough to do the job would have other visible side-effects on planetary orbits, while quantum fields don't have the range.

            It takes the Sun a lot of effort to produce heat. Effort means work, which has a precise formula for its calculation. Or don't you think that those descriptions of "the equivalent of X million atomic bombs going off every second" denote anything?

            If a narrow-band radiation-emitting "fog" were part of empty space, we would see evidence in several ways. Depending on the scale, stars or galaxies would appear different to us according to their distance. If local phenomena cleared away the fog close to us (in an astronomical sense), the fog would appear to be more shell-like and we would observe shell-like effects, unless we are at the exact center of the shell. That seems unlikely, since we aren't anywhere near the center of the solar system, our arm of the galaxy, or the local cluster of galaxies.

            Soviet scientists observed the same radiation as Western scientists using instruments built with very different technologies. The only thing that they have in common are Maxwell's equations, which seem to work well enough for designing your TV set and the ICs in your computer. If you can provide equations that work exactly like Maxwell's except for predicting the spurious reception of frequencies identical to the cosmic black-body radiation, people will listen.

            A lot of science works like counting cards in blackjack. For instance, once all the face cards have been dealt, you don't have to physically examine the deck to know that you won't bust on a twelve. Likewise, science sees certain phenomena and reaches certain conclusions about the nature of the universe, without having to travel beyond our solar system. The same conclusions that led to the development of your freezer or cellphone also led to certain deductions about the nature of the universe. Now, I'll admit the possibility that the game is rigged. Maybe electricity is a fraud to steal my money. Maybe gnomes stuff ice in the walls of my freezer when I'm not looking. Maybe when I talk on my cell phone, I really talking to a very tiny parrot (cared for nightly by those same gnomes) who uses telepathy to communicate with other parrots in other cell phones.

            Somehow, though, I doubt it.
      • We have no way of knowing whether the radiation is just inherent to our solar system, galaxy, or even planet. In fact, it is most likely that the instruments themselves are the problem.

        The microwave radiation is blueshifted [nasa.gov] in the direction our galaxy appears to be moving in relation to points at the edge of the visible universe, after correcting for blueshifts from our motion around the sun and the sun's course through the galaxy. This rather handily shows the source of the microwave radiation to be outside our galaxy. If you blame it on the instruments themselves, then you have to come up with a theory that explains how the instruments produce anomolous readings that correspond exactly with the extra-galactic point they happen to be aimed at at the moment (versus what planet, local star, geomagnetic longitude, etc. they are pointed at). And the source of the microwaves isn't claimed by astrophysicists to be "distant stars everywhere." It is obvious that you don't know enough about the theories or the instruments and observations that stimulated them to discount them. Part of science is to come up with theories that explain observations. No where is it implied that the theories have to be whole and perfect or even correct, just that they explain all the evidence gathered so far. If we could send probes to distant galaxies and they showed that the Milky Way was responsible for all the microwave radiation, then the theories would be rewritten and /. user Angram crowned as a visionary. But don't hold your breath.

    • The tiny "Made In Centauri 5" label was a dead give away.
  • I've been collecting stardust since 1972 [davidbowie.com].

    Sincerely,
    David Bowie

  • cleanup (Score:3, Funny)

    by bobba22 ( 566693 ) on Friday February 28, 2003 @12:54PM (#5406875) Journal
    This obviously points to the rumour that nasa has started training old women for the 'space cleanup' - removing all space dust and debris from the upper atmosphere. Old women have several advantages aside from being expert cleaners, they are lightwieght, require little food or sleep, their bones are brittle anyway and they have absorbed enough cherry to keep them radiation-free for months at a time.
  • by guacamolefoo ( 577448 ) on Friday February 28, 2003 @12:54PM (#5406879) Homepage Journal
    When collected at high-altitude, the origin of six grains are from outside our solar system.

    IIRC, someone once wrote that "...even God cannot tell carbon atoms apart." How do you pull something from the upper atmosphere and conclusively determine that it came from outside the solar system? Perhaps it would help to RTFA (and I will) but it just baffles me how these scientists are able to figure this stuff out. I'm starting to fall into that "Science as magic" category, I guess.

    GF.
    • especially when most comlex atoms in the universe are created in the explosions of stars. the article isnt heavy on the details but I questioned their findings it as well
    • by CheshireCatCO ( 185193 ) on Friday February 28, 2003 @01:18PM (#5407097) Homepage
      The usual way to trace the place of origin of a sample (meteorites, dust, whatever) is to look at the ratio of isotopes of certain elements. In this case, they used two oxygen isoptopes. Objects in our solar system tend to have a particular ratio, all the material having formed from the same nebula 4.6 billion years ago. Material with a very different isotope ratio probably comes from outside the system, then.

      This method isn't without it's risks, of course. There are processes which might enhance or deplete a body in a particular isotope over it's kin. But I'm not thinking of any that would work on a dust grain, assuming it had ever been part of a planet.
      • ...assuming it had ever been part of a planet.


        So, at some point in time, billions and billions of years from now, the atoms that make up myself will be drifting around the cosmos blown out by the destruction of the earth by the red-giant death of our sun.

        To be picked up and analyzed by some alien scientist who determines that their planet wasn't the only one to invent pizza.
      • Radioactive decay dating has it's limits.

        I took this course a while ago but there is a limit to how old we can date something based on radioactive dating.

        For example.. using certain materials we can only date something back to a maximum of several thousand years. Using another method, we are limited to a few billion.

        Does anyone know the limit to hold old we can date something (using whatever type of isotope that would be best?) I guess if we can date something as far back as 15 billion years.. we don't have to worry (since that is the age of the universe estimated I think).

        --Noodle
    • They're not collecting single atoms, that's nigh well impossible. They're collecting "stardust", little motes of billions of atoms. By analyzing the ratio of isotopes you can determine what kind of star environment the stardust was probably formed in. And that quote "God cannot tell carbon atoms apart" isn't true. There's carbon-12, carbon-14, etc. All the isotopes can easily be told apart from each other. That's how this process works.
      • I understand that they are not collecting single atoms and, having read the article, it makes some sense. On the other hand, pulling stuff from the upper atmosphere (which is soup compared to interstellar space or even the Oort Cloud) seems to be an unusual way of looking for motes of cosmic debris. The people who come up with this stuff are, so to speak, "out there".

        And that quote "God cannot tell carbon atoms apart" isn't true. There's carbon-12, carbon-14, etc. All the isotopes can easily be told apart from each other.

        You're missing the point of the quote. A carbon-14 atom and a carbon-14 atom cannot be distinguished. Clearly, a standard carbon atom and a carbon isotope, such as c-14 can be distinguished.

        I believe the quote came from someone discussing how predestination in the universe is an absurd idea and that the universe is not simply a pool hall.

        GF.
  • For some reason, I thought the hardest stardust to get was the one at the home of the gigantos. I had to go back and look everywhere to find that one... but it's definitely worth it for what Martel gives you when you have all 50.
  • by SirSlud ( 67381 ) on Friday February 28, 2003 @12:56PM (#5406902) Homepage
    .. had god been smart and made the universe and everything within it with RFID tags. Imagine the possibilities ...
  • Andromeda (Score:2, Funny)

    by CWCarlson ( 2884 )
    Wonderful. I suppose Project Wildfire will be activated shortly, following the mysterious death of all but two people (a baby and an old man) living in a desert town somewhere...

    Perhaps this time they won't hire any epileptics.
  • The official name of the school is Washington University in Saint Louis. At least get the name of the school right. That's like calling Harvard University the "University of Harvard". You sound like a moron to anyone who went there.

    For future reference it is NOT any of the following:
    University of Washington
    Washinton State University
    Western Washington Universty
    Central Washington University
    George Washington University
    Washington and Lee University
  • I collected a whole bunch of it, but then all I got was this armor...
  • by Mothra the III ( 631161 ) on Friday February 28, 2003 @01:05PM (#5406981)
    If space is a giant vacuum, shouldn't it be picking up all this dust?
  • only 100 billion
    Once you've seen one comet, you've seen em all.
    • Comets (Score:3, Funny)

      by JCholewa ( 34629 )
      > Once you've seen one comet, you've seen em all.

      I dunno about that. On Star Trek last year, they had a comet with earthlike gravity. Now that's damned impressive, and it must be true since its on TV.

      Maybe there are other unique comets out there, like ones with bizarre technobabble-inhibiting EM fields and occasional spaceberry orchards. ^_^

      -JC
  • Makes me want to break out the +1 Vorpal Sword.

    I found it interesting that commercial mining of asteroids was mentioned in the third article. Sure, raw materials are plentiful in asteroids, but wouldn't the cost of getting there far outweigh the benefits of the plentiful resources? I guess this would be practical if/when we run out of certain ores, or as an "While we're here, we might as well" measure, but I can't see it going anywhere otherwise until the price of space travel drops dramatically.


    • > I found it interesting that commercial mining of asteroids was mentioned in the third article. Sure, raw materials are plentiful in asteroids, but wouldn't the cost of getting there far outweigh the benefits of the plentiful resources?

      Surely it would be worthwhile if we could find an asteroid made of Slashdot Karma.

      We could harvest Karma with our hoes!

    • > I found it interesting that commercial mining of asteroids was mentioned
      > in the third article. Sure, raw materials are plentiful in asteroids,
      > but wouldn't the cost of getting there far outweigh the benefits
      > of the plentiful resources? I guess this would be practical if/when
      > we run out of certain ores, or as an "While we're here, we might
      > as well" measure, but I can't see it going anywhere otherwise
      > until the price of space travel drops dramatically.

      Yeah, it's an "economy of scale" thing. Once we have regular (and by regular I mean many companies each making daily launches) access to space, the incremental cost of space travel will be far, far below what we pay now in terms of cost per unit mass.

      And, thing is, it doesn't cost much in terms of energy to get to any given asteroid once you're outside the gravity well of Earth. The only cost would really be time, since momentum keeps you going until you want to brake. So you start up a pipeline of automated mining probes to Ceres. Much like on modern microprocessors, the initial hardware cost would be greater, but you'd be able to transport mining materials at a much faster and more reliable rate than you otherwise would.

      And mining in a low gravity environment (Ceres, the largest asteroid, has less than a thirtieth of Earth's surface gravity) should be far less energy intensive than mining on Earth, where you have to expend unbelievable amounts of energy to merely move mined elements from the mines to the transports, and where you're severely limited in machine travel range due to friction related to that nasty 9.8m/s^2 that we have to put up with all the time here.

      And some asteroids will probably have minable minerals in abundance, and remote spectral analysis will be able to allow us to identify mineral compositions from millions of miles away. That does away with a huge portion of the work involved in mining on Earth, where you have to often indirectly figure out what minerals are hidden beneath the surface, wasting time by drilling all over the place. That costs money continuously, and you could save on that with asteroid mining.

      There are probably some other things in asteroid mining that I'm not thinking of. I'm not miner, and my "engineering" knowledge is rather amateurish (I'm more of a theoretical guy, being a programmer and all). Maybe wear and tear of machines would be less (due to both that lesser gravity we discussed above and the total lack of atmosphere or microorganisms to break down the machine parts). Maybe there are social benefits, like higher morale for the folks who like to work in larger and more open environments (this century, maybe "getting away from it all" will mean accepting a job that lets you work fifty million miles away for a year or two).

      Economies of scale, my man. We have to force ourselves to pay the high costs to continue the proliferation of new technology. I we don't do this, we go stagnant. Space launches these days are often more expensive than they were in the old days, even when you take inflation into account. It's because we stopped doing them so often. It saves a few billion dollars a year in the short term. But we might have made back those billions -- and far more -- by now from the direct and indirect benefits of building up an economy-of-scale framework of space travel. I mean, heck, we landed on Luna six years before I was born. We have space probes ten light hours away. We also have advanced manufacturing facilities on Earth now. Had we continued our push into space instead of borking it all in the seventies through the nineties, I imagine that we would have simple factories producing complex objects on the cheap (at least with products that require tons of work on a small amount of raw material -- no friction and no gravity equals huge cost reductions!) now. Chip fabbing companies would be looking at near to medium term options for building astro-fabs. Do you realize how much more precision in the sub-nanometer range you'd get in building chips when you don't have to worry about gravity and vibrations from the local landmass and atmospheric variables? I mean, crap, we probably would be able to further accelerate process shrinks. 3.0GHz on a 130nm process? What a backwards technology for a space-enabled 2003!

      Economies of scale, my man. Startup costs are [almost] always prohibitive. That's how science and technology works. Live with it. But don't work to inhibit it.

      -JC
      • I can't rememebr who said it, but is true. Once youre in orbit, the rest is easy.
      • Also, heavy elements like gold and platinum are concentrated in earth's core; the heave stuff settled there when the earth was formed. Metal asteroids would have significantly higher concentrations of the good stuff. I've read that a good-sized near-earth iron/nickel asteroid would be worth $20 trillion wholesale, with about $4 trillion being economically viable to return to Earth (i.e. metals like gold, platinum). Also I seem to recall the world's largest nickel mine, in Canada, is actually the remnants of an iron/nickel asteroid that hit long ago.
        • Well, it's probably be worth a good bit less since in selling it you'd significantly reduce the sale price (even if you petered it out over a century).

          The real problem is still economic. It just doesn't have a good enough rate of return. Presume it costs a mere $30B to design, develop, and deploy a system to secure and exploit a nickel-metal NEAR as suggested. If it takes you 20 years to do this, and then you play the asteroid out over another century, what's your rate of return when you sell the goods for $4T?

          Well, if you took that $30B of initial investment and let it grow at 5% APR, compounding daily, it would turn into $1,206,780B after 120 years.

          So, uh... you just cut your return by over 3000 times. Ouch. Big, big, big ouch.

          That's the real big problem with space exploration - it takes so long that it becomes unviable economically. And these numbers don't even take risk into account, and they're probably low on a factor of 10x - it would probably cost closer to $300B to develop that first successful mining strategy, if not more. There's a lot of hard problems to crack first.

          Of course, this doesn't touch on other reasons to do this kind of thing, but then you're appealing to other desires. Raw economics is not a good reason to go into space... it's a really lousy one. But I still want to go there.
        • Yeah, but if you brought back a solid platinum asteroid the size of a house, the price of platinum would drop making it just a worthless chunk of metal(is platinum good for anything besides being rare and therefore expensive?).
          • Yes! Platinum is (or would be) incredibly useful in all sorts of applications. Unfortunately, it is also rare and therefore expensive. Ditto radium and gold and various other rare elements which could have much better uses than lining bank vaults.
          • Platinum is very nice for fuel cells. I'd be willing to bet that in a hydrogen based energy economy a house sized chunk of platinum would go for a lot.

            Many metals are pretty rare in the earth's crust; there's no way to tell what commercial applications for these metals would appear if they were abundant enough to meet commercial demands, even at a couple hundred bucks an ounce.
  • "...including the Stardust mission..."

    Ziggy learned to play guitar, flying high with...

    etc...

    sorry, had to do it. :)

    -r-
  • i'm sure i'm the thirty-seventh person to point
    this out, but the University of Washington is in
    Washington, and Washington University is in St.
    Louis. this article is refering the Washington
    University, which is located in St. Louis, MO.
  • Skeptical (Score:1, Informative)

    by FosterSJC ( 466265 )
    Now, I know the articles I'm about to site are about identifying possible extra-terrestrial life, but I believe that calling atmospheric dust extra-solar is just as specious.

    The first article [slashdot.org] is about the supposed space bacteria collected off of a weather balloon at high altitudes. You've got to be kidding me... That stuff did not just float thousands of light years just to get caught and identified off a weather balloon not even in space.

    The second article [slashdot.org] concerns the Murchison meteorite. This one they know came from outer space and still cant tell whether it had Earthy or Non-Earthy critters living inside.

    My point is that the possibility of contamination and disturbance of the results in experiments looking at both organic and inorganic compounds is astronomical (pardon the pun). I agree with an above post: some grad student didn't wash his hands after going to the bathroom and touched a sample.
    • Re: Skeptical (Score:5, Informative)

      by thelexx ( 237096 ) on Friday February 28, 2003 @01:36PM (#5407231)
      A little reading would go a long way in your search for truth.

      From the linked article:

      Using the NanoSIMS probe, the Washington University investigators then measured the relative amounts of two isotopes of oxygen in more than a thousand grains from nine IDPs. The data told them which grains had come from stars.

      From a link in the article:

      The NanoSIMS is a first-of-its-kind ion microprobe in the Laboratory for Space Sciences in Arts & Sciences and is housed on the fourth floor of Compton Hall. The $2 million instrument is the first in the world built to analyze the isotopic and elemental composition of extremely small samples, such as interplanetary dust particles, at a sub-micrometer scale, allowing a first-time look at those particles' subcomponents.

      And from a link [wustl.edu] on the NanoSIMS homepage [wustl.edu]:

      Results: Of all the subgrains defined in 25 images from 9 cluster IDPs, roughly 1031 were measured with sufficient precision to distinguish solar material from circumstellar dust as shown in Figure 1. Only grains > 200 nm were measured with this level of precision. Six of these grains have O isotopic compositions which fall well outside the range of solar system materials, marking them as stellar condensates.

      Seems to me like these cats know what they are doing.

      • I would like to add a bit more info for the skeptics. The isotope ratios are a pretty good key. The material in our solar system has already been subject to a couple of generations of stellar processing. (Otherwise, there would be nothing by hydrogen.) The isotopes generated by the prior stars in our neck of the woods were determined by a particular set of fusion processes (dependent on stellar mass) that occurred during the life of those stars.

        Some of the matter from outside our solar system was generated by stars with different fusion processes which generate different isotopes for particular elements. These isotope ratios have been determined precisely from the microwave spectral signatures measured by radio telescopes.

        The fact that some extra-stellar grains drift into our solar system isn't surprising. However there a couple of big questions that I have. (Note that the wustl web site has been /.ed.)

        First, can the nano-SIMS system do chemical analysis, or is it limited to elemental analysis? That depends on how destructive the primary electron beam is. It probably needs to be fairly high energy in order to get the spatial resolution.

        If it can do chemical analysis, then we have a potential probe of the extra-solar chemistry. That's always exciting. However, there are some caveats. We don't know how long the grains have spent in our solar system. They could have been contaminated with some of the crud from our neighborhood.

        Furthermore, heat from the sun has probably evaporated many of the more volatile compounds and decomposed some of the more reactive species that one might find in interstellar space.

  • I even have his 80's "Fashion" stuff. I do miss the Spiders from Mars...
    (sigh)
  • well, (Score:2, Interesting)

    by C21 ( 643569 )
    I suggest they check out the moon's craters for the dust residue from asteroid impacts...
    • Re:well, (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mmol_6453 ( 231450 )
      Why bother, when we have craters on Earth to look at instead? The point is that we haven't been there, we haven't specifically looked at the object, so we technically don't know what it is.

      You see, that's science. Other examples might be...
      • ...why did we send flyby probes to other planets when an orbital telescope could tell us just as much?
      • ...why spend money on an orbital telescope when we see** just as much from higher-altitude observatories?


      How long would it have been before we were sure about about the Van Allen radiation belts, if we we hadn't sent probes up to check?

      (**) Yes, I know you have to deal with refraction and diffraction and turbulance and clouds, but we've got technology to deal with all of that now.
      • Yes, I know you have to deal with refraction and diffraction and turbulance and clouds, but we've got technology to deal with all of that now.

        All the technology in the world isn't going to help you get around the atmosphere filtering out certain interesting wavelengths of ratiation. Not unless you get said technology outside of said atmosphere ;)
  • Spaceball One has become ...
    Mega Maid!
  • Why don't they just take a crap, cough or scrape some skin and examine that. Aren't we all supposed to be stardust from expired stars, according I guess to the new age people, or Babylon 5.

    The pulsars in my head keep throbbing.
  • What Oort Cloud? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    The Oort cloud is only a proposal the explain what cannot be explained by the alleged billion-year age of the solar system. See this page [arizona.edu] for a short description. It says this about the Oort Cloud: "The very existence of the Oort Cloud is only a working hypothesis. Our only evidence is very indirect."
  • My God (Score:2, Funny)

    by chris411 ( 610359 )
    It's full of dust!
  • We are stardust
    We are golden
    And we've got to get ourselves
    Back to the garden


    Woodstock [jonimitchell.com] by Joni Mitchell
  • since 98 (Score:1, Offtopic)

    Finally, someone else collecting Stardust [allmusic.com]. There are enough remixes out there.

    Cassius [allmusic.com] does a good one.

    Vinyl: It's what's for mixing.

  • how much of the dust in my house came from outer space?
  • ...it's full of dust...!

    (sorry, couldn't help it)

    ~sabine
    "if your brain had an ass, i'd kick it"
  • Everybody run!!! Somebody call wildfire.

If you fail to plan, plan to fail.

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