Astronomy buffs who jumped at the chance to use
their home computers in the SETI @ home search for intelligent life in the
universe will soon be able to join an Internet-based search for dust grains
originating from stars hundreds of thousands of light years away.
"In a new project called Stardust @ home, University
of California, Berkeley, researchers will invite Internet users to help them
search for a few dozen submicroscopic grains of interstellar dust captured by
NASA's Stardust spacecraft via a website at
Berkeley. This aerogel array, which was mounted atop the Stardust
spacecraft, was used to collect interstellar dust particles as well as dust from
the tail of comet Wild 2.
Though Stardust's main mission was to capture dust
from the tail of comet Wild 2 - dust dating from the origins of the solar system
some 4.5 billion years ago - it also captured a sprinkling of dust from distant
stars, perhaps created in supernova explosions less than 10 million years
ago. Thanks to a grant from NASA and assistance from the Planetary
Society, however, Westphal and his colleagues at the Space Sciences Laboratory
have created a "virtual microscope" that will allow anyone with an Internet
connection to scan some of the 1.5 million pictures of the aerogel for tracks
left by speeding dust. Each picture will cover an area smaller than a grain of
Read the full press release here (including info on how to participate
in finding specs of space dust in the Aerogel!).