Monday, February 20, 2006

Stardust being Analyzed

Back in January, a spacecraft which did a fly-by of a comet returned to Earth with the first collected samples of materials from outside the our atmosphere since Moon rocks were last brought back by Apollo 17 in 1972. The NASA star dust mission now has samples being studied, where scientists are looking at dust presumably left over from the time the solar system formed some 4.5 billion years ago. The dust was captured by a substance known as aerogel, which is 99.8% empty space. I've seen this in labs before and it looks like a dim fog in a bottle; very cool stuff! Scientists can extract tiny particles that are trapped in the aerogel. Some of these dust particles are ten times or more smaller than the width of a human hair, and such studies will allow us to get a better understanding of how the solar system was formed and from what early materials it was formed.

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