Tuesday, January 06, 2004

We are stardust, we are golden

The Mars rover isn't the only thing happening at NASA these days... a couple of days ago the Stardust comet sample return mission successfully captured particles streaming off of comet Wild-2. There is more information about the mission here, as well as a countdown to when Stardust will return to the Earth (just over two years from now, on 15 January 2006). This is the first mission to retrieve anything from beyond the orbit of the moon.

Stardust was launched on 7 February 1999. Since that time it has traveled over 2 billion miles. On 2 January 2004, it came within 149 miles of the comet (damn good aim, that). Travelling through the halo of material ejected from the comet, Stardust captured particles of matter in a trap made of aerogel, which is a solid with a density very close to that of air. Aerogel also has some extraordinary insulating properties, which were utilized in the WEB (warm electronics box) portion of the Sojourner rover and the two current rovers.