In January, about 10 years ago, several comet fragments flew to Earth inside a spacecraft. A sample of star dust was placed in the capsule of a NASA spacecraft that arrived in the state of Utah. Since then, the principal investigator Don Brownlee (University of Washington) has carefully studied these samples to find out what the ship was able to collect after seven years in outer space.
Even a few years later, we managed to find out something. In 2014, the Brownlee team announced that probable interstellar traces were found in airgel and aluminum foil particle detectors. Another team of scientists at a scientific conference in Houston suggested that this interplanetary dust may also be contained in glass.
"We are constantly exploring new substances using the best methods," said Brownley Discovery News. "The more you look at the subject and view it, the more you can learn about it."
Stardust collected the fragments of Comet Wild-2 in 2004 even before part of the ship returned to Earth with samples on board. The spacecraft was a pioneer in the collection of all samples, because so much was only collected from one ship (Japan, Hayabusa, in 2010). Hayabusa-2 (now in space) and OSIRIS-REX from NASA (not yet launched) will have to deliver new samples to Earth in the coming years.
Comet dust sample under the microscope One of the mission’s biggest surprises, as Brownle remembered, was half the rock material found in the comet. In composition, it was almost entirely white-hot. This suggests that rock material is formed at a very short distance to the sun, and then transported to the Pluto region, where ice forms. Scientists this was a hint in answering the question about the cause of the formation of the solar system.
In the eyes of the public, there has recently been another event. The European spacecraft Rosetta reached orbit of comet 67P / Churyumov-Gerasimenko after flying for a year and landed on the landing module (Filet), which worked for several days on the surface of the comet. Brownlee said Phil did not function as planned. But the comet 67P gas analyzes done by Rosetta are a “supplement” to information about solids. The fact that Stardust brought to Earth then long ago.
“Rosetta has done a fabulous mission,” said Brownlee. "It will help us find out a lot about the structure and evolution of the comet. But, unfortunately, it will not tell us anything about the origin of the comet itself."
In addition, Brownlee is working on critical studies to conduct a reverse mission to Enceladus - a geyser beating on the icy moon of Saturn, as well as to another comet located a little further from the previous one.