Probe may have found cosmic dust
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Posted 06 March 2010 - 08:37 AM
Scientists may have identified the first specks of interstellar dust in material collected by the US space agency's Stardust spacecraft. A stream of this dust flows through space; the tiny particles are building blocks that go into making stars and planets.
The Nasa spacecraft was primarily sent to catch dust streaming from Comet Wild 2 and return it to Earth for analysis. But scientists also set out to capture particles of interstellar dust.
The material was gathered by the Stardust probe in a seven-year, 4.8-billion-km (2.9 billion miles) interplanetary voyage. It extended a retractable device containing cells filled with a material called aerogel, a porous substance designed to trap dust molecules.
A capsule containing the precious samples was then returned to Earth in January 2006. Team members have now reported the possible discovery of two contemporary interstellar dust grains in the Stardust Interstellar Dust Collector (SIDC) deployed during the mission.
Dr Andrew Westphal, from the University of California, Berkeley, announced the find at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (LPSC) in The Woodlands, Texas.
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