Science  28 Mar 2014:
Vol. 343, Issue 6178, pp. 1414
  1. Spacecraft Nabs Specks of Pristine Stardust


    For the first time, scientists have laid their hands on primordial material unaltered by the violent birth of the solar system. The precious sample—containing seven interstellar dust particles returned to Earth by the Stardust spacecraft—weighs just a few trillionths of a gram.

    In 2000 and 2002, Stardust barreled through deep space with its tennis racket-like dust collector panel extended to catch particles of dust in centimeter-thick blocks of aerogel. The trick was to slow and retain the particles, traveling at 15,000 kilometers per hour or more, without vaporizing them. Back on Earth, 30,714 volunteers—the "dusters" of the Stardust@home project—examined microscopic images taken within the aerogel to pick out telltale tracks left by speeding particles. One hundred million searches later, seven "probable" dust impacts on the collector have emerged, NASA scientists reported last week at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in The Woodlands, Texas. Next, they must transfer the infinitesimal specks of dust from inside the aerogel into instruments for further analysis.

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