▪ United States space probe
  a U.S. space probe that captured and returned dust grains from interplanetary space and from a comet. Stardust was launched on Feb. 7, 1999. It flew past the asteroid Annefrank on Nov. 2, 2002, and the comet Wild 2 on Jan. 2, 2004. A sample capsule containing the dust grains returned to Earth and landed in the Utah desert on Jan. 15, 2006. The main space probe was redesignated NExT (New Exploration of Tempel 1) and on Feb. 14, 2011, is scheduled to fly by Comet Tempel 1, which was visited by the U.S. space probe Deep Impact (Deep Impact/EPOXI) in 2005.

 The most significant instrument is the Stardust Sample Collection Apparatus, two arrays of aerogel mounted on opposite sides of a common plate. Aerogel is an inert silica-based substance that has the lowest density (2 mg per cubic centimetre [0.001 ounce per cubic inch]) of any solid. It is designed to capture particles by gently slowing and then stopping them in the aerogel matrix. One side was 3 cm (1 inch) thick for collection of heavier cometary dust particles. The other side was thinner, just 1 cm (0.3 inch), for collection of interplanetary dust. The collecting area of each plate is 1,000 square cm (155 square inches). The arrays were enclosed during the mission and only exposed during the collecting phases in space. A major finding is that the dust in comets is from the early solar system. The dust includes Inti (named for the Inca god of the Sun), a calcium- aluminum inclusion mineral common in meteorites (meteorite). These and other aspects indicate that the dust grains in comets were forged in the hot, young inner solar system and then swept to the outer solar system where they were gradually incorporated into the icy material that became comets.

      Other instruments on the Stardust probe include the Imaging and Navigation Camera, which is used to help fine-tune the approach to target bodies and then to produce high-resolution images during the flyby. However, two years into the mission, the filter wheel became stuck in the white-light position, thus precluding the collection of images at other wavelengths. Contamination on the outside optical element also causes a slight halo effect on all images. The Cometary and Interstellar Dust Analyzer detects the mass of dust particles after they scatter off a small silver target. The Dust Flux Monitor Instrument is basically a sophisticated large-area microphone that measures particle impact rates and mass distribution. It is built as a shield to protect the spacecraft from fast-moving dust.

Dave Dooling, Jr.

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Universalium. 2010.

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