Scientists Confirm Comet Samples; Briefing Set For Thursday

Stardust scientists in JSC laboratory Donald Brownlee, Stardust principal investigator with the University of Washington, flashes a victory sign for the successful arrival of Stardust material.
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January 18, 2006

Scientists have confirmed that particles from a comet and interstellar dust have been returned to Earth by NASA's Stardust mission.

The science team opened the Stardust sample return capsule on Tuesday in a special facility at NASA's Johnson Space Center, Houston.

"The collection of cometary particles has exceeded our expectations," said Dr. Donald Brownlee, Stardust principal investigator from the University of Washington, Seattle. "We were absolutely thrilled to see thousands of impacts on the aerogel."

Inside the capsule, a tennis racket-like sample tray holds the particles captured as the spacecraft flew within (240 kilometers) 149 miles of comet Wild 2 in January 2004. The opposite side of the tray holds interstellar dust particles caught streaming through the solar system by Stardust during its seven-year journey. The team is analyzing the particle capture cells and removing individual grains of comet and interstellar dust. The particles will eventually be sent to select investigators worldwide.

Leaders of the science and curation teams will participate in a news conference Thursday, January 19, at 8 a.m. Pacific Time to discuss the comet and interstellar dust samples. The briefing will originate from the Johnson Space Center, 2101 NASA Parkway, Houston, and will be broadcast live on NASA Television and the Web. Question-and-answer capability for reporters is available at participating NASA centers.

Participants in the Thursday news conference include:

  • Dr. Donald Brownlee, principal investigator, University of Washington,
  • Dr. Peter Tsou, deputy principal investigator, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
  • Dr. Michael Zolensky, Stardust curator and co-investigator, Johnson Space Center
  • Dr. Carlton Allen, astromaterials curator, Johnson Space Center
NASA TV's Public, Education and Media channels are available on an MPEG-2 digital C-band signal accessed via satellite AMC-6, at 72 degrees west longitude, transponder 17C, 4040 MHz, vertical polarization. In Alaska and Hawaii, they're on AMC-7 at 137 degrees west longitude, transponder 18C, at 4060 MHz, horizontal polarization. A Digital Video Broadcast compliant Integrated Receiver Decoder is required for reception. For digital downlink information for each NASA TV channel, and access to NASA TV's Public Channel on the Web, visit: .

JPL manages the Stardust mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, developed the spacecraft. The Johnson Space Center is home to the curation team and the facility where the Stardust particles are stored.

For information about the Stardust mission on the Web, visit .

For information about NASA and agency programs on the Web, visit .

DC Agle (818) 393-9011


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