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Cindy Maddera

Well something’s going right for NASA; mission Stardust is a success. The Stardust spaceship was launched in 1999 and rendezvoused with the comet Wild 2 in January 2004. During that time it not only collected samples from the comet tail, but picked up dust streaming into our solar system from Sagittarius. Samples were collected onto a substance called aerogel. It’s a silica-based substance that is inserted into a grid, kind of like a large tennis racket. The collector capsule parachuted down in the Utah desert early Saturday and was opened Tuesday at Johnson Space Center in Houston. Scientists are very excited over the initial findings. There were a number of things that could have gone wrong like the explosion of the collector capsule on contact with the comet dust or the destruction of the capsule on impact with Earth. Let’s face it; NASA hasn’t had a very good tract record lately. All of that and more could have happened to Stardust.

One of the cool things about the analysis part is that NASA is letting the public help. The Stardust@home project will allow volunteers to scan enlarged photos of the aerogel for tracks left by interstellar particles as they plunged into the gel. If you find a particle you get to name it!