[meteorite-list] Comet Dust Samples Comet to the UK (Stardust)
From: Ron Baalke <baalke_at_meteoritecentral.com>
Date: Fri Feb 10 12:54:43 2006
Comet dust samples come to the UK
February 9, 2006
The first samples of dust from a comet millions of kilometres away have
arrived in the UK to undergo analysis.
The grains were captured by the US space agency's Stardust probe from a
comet dating to the beginning of our Solar System, 4.6 billion years ago.
Last month, a capsule from the Stardust mission landed in Utah,
containing over a million miniscule particles.
The UK scientists hope the cometary dust will shed light on the origins
of the Solar System.
It is the first time samples of cometary and interstellar dust have been
returned to Earth.
Scientists from the Open University, Natural History Museum, Imperial
College, University of Kent and University of Manchester are the lucky
recipients of parcels containing material from the Comet Wild-2.
Three different kinds of samples have been distributed to the UK for
* Foil from the particle collector
* Blocks of aerogel, the porous material used to collect the tiny
* And the extracted particles themselves
Scientists at the Open University, in Milton Keynes, were extremely
excited to receive samples of foil this week, and research began
'Interstellar building blocks'
"We are looking at the foil in an electron microscope to find the
craters made by particles," explained Professor Monica Grady, from the
Open University's Planetary and Space Science Research Institute.
"We will look at the number of craters, the size and the depth of the
craters on the foil to give us an idea of the numbers of particles and
the mass of the particles."
They will also use the electron microscope to see if there are any
residues of the particles left in a bid to obtain chemical information
Examination of the particles themselves, either from the aerogel or the
particles extracted already, will be used to determine information about
their mineralogy and chemistry, the environment in which the comet
formed and also the composition of the comet.
Techniques such as X-ray diffraction, scanning electron microscopy and
transmission electron microscopy will be used for preliminary analysis.
The comet, which contains material unchanged since the birth of the
Solar System, may help to answer questions about how the Earth formed.
"Less than a teaspoon-full of these minute comet dust particles may give
us the answers to some of the most important questions in planetary
science," explained Imperial's Dr Matt Genge, another proud owner of
some comet dust.
"Did comets seed the Earth with water for the oceans and the organics to
make living things? What were the basic interstellar building blocks of
planets and how were these assembled 4.5 billion years ago? " he added.
In addition to the UK, samples have been sent out worldwide and the
mammoth task of gathering information about the tiny particles is now
"Receiving these samples is like being the first man on the Moon, only
without the space suits," Dr Genge commented.
"It's enormously exciting to be one of the first people to examine these
tiny dust grains from a comet."
Received on Fri 10 Feb 2006 12:34:30 PM PST