Stardust Begins Second Round of Interstellar Dust Collection
The Stardust spacecraft, whose primary mission is to collect samples of dust from comet Wild 2 in 2004,
yesterday began its second round of collecting tiny specks of solid matter, called interstellar dust grains,
that permeate the galaxy.
This dust, passing through the solar system like a wind, is made of particles smaller than one-hundredth
the width of a human hair. The particles are made of varying amounts of most of the elements in the periodic
table. The Stardust mission will use its special formulation of aerogel, the world's lightest solid, to try
to capture these small solid particles as the spacecraft travels in the same direction as the dust stream
until December 9, 2002.
One side of the aerogel collector material points into the dust stream to collect interstellar
dust, according to project manager Tom Duxbury. When Stardust encounters comet Wild 2 in early 2004,
the reverse side of the collector will trap particles from the gas and dust escaping from the inside of the
comet. When the dust samples return to Earth in 2006, team members will extract and analyze the particles.
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