[meteorite-list] Stardust Lands in London - Scientists Look to Comet for Vital Clues about Solar System

From: Ron Baalke <baalke_at_meteoritecentral.com>
Date: Thu Feb 9 12:23:42 2006
Message-ID: <200602091722.k19HM0A28022_at_zagami.jpl.nasa.gov>


Stardust lands in London: scientists look to comet for vital clues
about Solar System

Imperial College - London
For immediate release
8 February 2006

Dust from a distant comet arrived in London today enabling UK scientists
to be among the first to take a close look at the samples. The dust from
comet Wild-2 was collected after a three billion mile round-trip by the
NASA Stardust probe, which began in 1999.

The return of samples from the Stardust mission gives a small group of
London scientists the opportunity to find out whether comets, mysterious
objects that have puzzled humans for millennia, record the very earliest
history of our Solar System. The samples will also enable them to
investigate the theory that comets may have provided our planet with
some of the water and organic material that allowed life to develop.
Although detailed analyses will take months or even years, it is
possible that fundamental new data could be uncovered in a matter of hours.

Dr Phil Bland, a planetary scientist from Imperial College London's Department
of Earth Sciences and Engineering, will be analysing the material using
an X-ray instrument capable of analysing the mineral content of the tiny
particles while they are still in the collector material, without
damaging them.

"Comets contain a record of the earliest stages of Solar System
formation. These tiny grains could be a big part of the puzzle of how
planets formed from dust and gas. It's a resource that will keep us busy
for a long time, but we might get answers to some questions for
instance, whether comets contain minerals associated with water in a
matter of hours", he said.

Dr Matt Genge, an expert on extraterrestrial dust who is also from the
Department of Earth Sciences and Engineering, added: "I've looked at
thousands of exterrestrial dust particles over the years but it's
tremendously exciting to have bits of known comet quite literally at the
tips of our fingers. Not since the Apollo days have we had the
opportunity to look at material brought back from space. These few
thousands of a gram of dust may tell us more about comets than the last
100 years of telescope observations."

The results of the London scientists' analysis of the comet dust will be
published together with those from the rest of the international
Preliminary Evaluation Team, later this year.

Scientists Anton Kearsley and Gretchen Benedix at the Natural History
Museum complete the London NASA team who will be analysing the samples.
Imperial College and the Natural History Museum are working together on
this project and an extensive range of other planetary science projects
as part of the Impacts and Astromaterials Research Centre, which brings
together scientists from both institutions. The X-ray machine was
developed by researchers at the Natural History Museum and Imperial
College and is funded by the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research
Council and the Royal Society.


For further information please contact:

Laura Gallagher
Press Officer
Communications Division
Tel: +44 (0)20 7594 6702
Mobile: +44 (0)7803 886 248
E-mail: l.gallagher_at_imperial. ac.uk
Received on Thu 09 Feb 2006 12:21:59 PM PST

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