Let's get started!


Sunday, January 15, 2006

In January 2004, the Stardust spacecraft flew through the coma of comet Wild2 and captured thousands of cometary dust grains in special aerogel collectors. Two years later, in January 2006, Stardust will return these dust grains --- the first sample return from a solid solar-system body beyond the Moon --- to Earth. But Stardust carries an equally important payload on the opposite side of the cometary collector: the first samples of contemporary interstellar dust ever collected. As well as being the first mission to return samples from a comet, Stardust is the first sample return mission from the Galaxy. But finding the incredibly tiny interstellar dust impacts in the Stardust Interstellar Dust Collector (SIDC) will be extremely difficult.

The only way that we can think of to find these exciting interstellar dust grains is to recruit talented volunteers to help us search. First, you will go through a web-based training session. This is not for everyone: you must pass a test to qualify to register to participate. After passing the test and registering, you will be able to download a virtual microscope (VM). The VM will automatically connect to our server and download so-called "focus movies" -- stacks of images that we will collect from the Stardust Interstellar Dust Collector using an automated microscope at the Cosmic Dust Lab at Johnson Space Center. The VM will work on your computer, under your control. You will search each field for interstellar dust impacts by focusing up and down with a focus control.

You can signup now, but the first images will not be available until March.