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:
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