[meteorite-list] Studying Space Dust (Stardust)

From: Ron Baalke <baalke_at_meteoritecentral.com>
Date: Wed Feb 15 13:04:07 2006
Message-ID: <200602151732.k1FHW6u29654_at_zagami.jpl.nasa.gov>


Studying Space Dust

Dartmouth College Office of Public Affairs - Press Release
Susan Knapp (603) 646-3661
Feburary 14, 2006

When you work on space dust, it can be difficult to collect field data.
Luckily for some Dartmouth researchers, NASA's Stardust spacecraft has
recently returned to earth, after a seven-year voyage, with some samples
to study.

"We didn't even know until it landed whether there would be particles
for us," says Susan Taylor, an adjunct professor of Earth Sciences
and a research physical scientist at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers'
Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory . "Seven years
is a long time to wait for your samples to arrive. Now we have to wait a
bit longer, because there's a line of other researchers who have also
been waiting."

Taylor expects her samples will arrive in a few months. The research is
part of the effort to learn more about comets and other interstellar
particles to better understand how our universe was made and what it's
made of.

"We want to learn how it formed, why it formed, and what's happened
since," she says. "This will help us piece together the story of our
solar system."

Taylor is working with Charles Daghlian, director of Dartmouth's
Electron Microscope Facility, and with undergraduate intern Emily
Koepsell '09 on "bulk analysis." In other words, they will examine the
bigger chunks captured by Stardust, which, in fact, only measure about
20-50 microns across, less than the thickness of a piece of paper. About
160 research teams worldwide are looking at the Stardust particles, and
Taylor and Daghlian are part of the bulk chemistry examination group.

Koepsell, a participant in Dartmouth's Women in Science Project,
or WISP, will be helping Taylor and Daghlian. She started her internship
in January, and has been learning how to use the scanning electron
microscope, a piece of equipment that uses electrons to create
detailed 3-D images of very tiny items.

"When WISP announced its internships, this specific project jumped out
at me because it sounded unique and involved the use of a piece of
technology that I may never otherwise have the chance to operate," says
Koepsell. "I love running the SEM, and I have learned how to take photos
of the micrometeorites, do elemental analyses on them, and classify them
based on their composition and structure. I am continuing to finesse the
skills needed to correctly operate the SEM."

Daghlian says that he has been working with Taylor to co-sponsor WISP
interns for at least ten years. The instrumentation he oversees has been
useful in examining material for Taylor's more earthly research
endeavors: studying micrometeorites collected from the drinking water at
the South Pole. Koepsell's internship includes helping analyze the South
Pole micrometeorite samples that will be compared to the material from

Stardust flew in the wake of a comet called Wild 2, and the samples were
captured using a new material called aerogel. Also called solid smoke,
aerogel was specifically designed to slow down, cushion, and store the
material from the comet's tail that hits the aerogel at a speed of five
kilometers per second (more than 11,000 miles per hour).

"Susan and I planned to have our WISP intern working on the
micrometeorites," says Daghlian, "so it was natural to extend Emily's
work to include participation in the Stardust project. It's a great
experience for Emily."
Received on Wed 15 Feb 2006 12:32:05 PM PST

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