Together, you and thousands of other Stardust@Home participants will find the first pristine interstellar dust particles ever brought to Earth.
Nestled within the Stardust spacecraft’s capsule in 2006 were precious particles collected during its dramatic encounter with comet Wild 2 and something else, even rarer and no less precious: tiny particles of interstellar dust that originate in distant stars, light-years away. They are the first such pristine particles ever collected in space, and scientists are eagerly waiting for their chance to “get their hands” on them.
Before they can be studied, though, these tiny interstellar grains will have to be found. This will not be easy. They are tiny-only about a micron (a millionth of a meter) in size! These miniscule particles are embedded in an aerogel collector 1,000 square centimeters in size. To make things worse the collector plates are interspersed with flaws, cracks, and an uneven surface. All this makes the interstellar dust particles extremely difficult to locate.
If we were doing this project twenty years ago, we would have searched for the tracks through a high-magnification microscope. Because the view of the microscope is so small, we would have to move the microscope more than 1.6 million times to search the whole collector. This is so much work, that even starting twenty years ago, we would still be doing it today!
This is where you come in:
By asking for help from talented volunteers like you from all over the world, we can do this project in months instead of years. To find the elusive particles we are using an automated scanning microscope to automatically collect images of the entire Stardust interstellar collector at the Curatorial Facility at Johnson Space Center in Houston. We call these stacks of images focus movies. All in all there will be nearly a million such focus movies. These are available to Stardust@home users like you around the world. You can then view them with the aid of a special Virtual Microscope (VM) that works in your web browser.
In recognition of the critical importance of the Stardust@home volunteers, the discoverer of an interstellar dust particle will appear as a co-author on any scientific paper by the Stardust@home collaboration announcing the discovery of the particle. The discoverer will also have the privilege of naming the particle! To also recognize the efforts of our volunteers who work hard, but may not have found a particle, we will invite the top-ranked volunteers to come visit our lab in Berkeley for a special tour. (Unfortunately, we are legally precluded from covering travel expenses.)
Project owners + coordinators:
The Stardust@Home Team