Stardust lands in London: scientists look to comet for vital clues about Solar System

Feb 09, 2006
Stardust lands in London: scientists look to comet for vital clues about Solar System

Dust from a distant comet arrived in London today enabling UK scientists to be among the first to take a close look at the samples. The dust from comet Wild-2 was collected after a three billion mile round-trip by the NASA Stardust probe, which began in 1999.

The return of samples from the Stardust mission gives a small group of London scientists the opportunity to find out whether comets, mysterious objects that have puzzled humans for millennia, record the very earliest history of our Solar System. The samples will also enable them to investigate the theory that comets may have provided our planet with some of the water and organic material that allowed life to develop. Although detailed analyses will take months or even years, it is possible that fundamental new data could be uncovered in a matter of hours.

Dr Phil Bland , a planetary scientist from Imperial College London's Department of Earth Sciences and Engineering, will be analysing the material using an X-ray instrument capable of analysing the mineral content of the tiny particles while they are still in the collector material, without damaging them.

"Comets contain a record of the earliest stages of Solar System formation. These tiny grains could be a big part of the puzzle of how planets formed from dust and gas. It's a resource that will keep us busy for a long time, but we might get answers to some questions for instance, whether comets contain minerals associated with water in a matter of hours", he said.

Dr Matt Genge , an expert on extraterrestrial dust who is also from the Department of Earth Sciences and Engineering, added: "I've looked at thousands of exterrestrial dust particles over the years but it's tremendously exciting to have bits of known comet quite literally at the tips of our fingers. Not since the Apollo days have we had the opportunity to look at material brought back from space. These few thousands of a gram of dust may tell us more about comets than the last 100 years of telescope observations."

The results of the London scientists' analysis of the comet dust will be published together with those from the rest of the international Preliminary Evaluation Team, later this year.

Scientists Anton Kearsley and Gretchen Benedix at the Natural History Museum complete the London NASA team who will be analysing the samples.

Source: Imperial College London

Explore further: SpaceX launches supplies to space station (Update)

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Comet-chasing probe to be roused from sleep

Jan 16, 2014

One of the most ambitious missions in the history of space goes into high-risk mode on Monday when Europe rouses a comet-chasing probe from years of hibernation.

Fire vs. ice: The science of ISON at perihelion

Dec 11, 2013

After a year of observations, scientists waited with bated breath on Nov. 28, 2013, as Comet ISON made its closest approach to the sun, known as perihelion. Would the comet disintegrate in the fierce heat ...

Phaethon confirmed as rock comet by STEREO vision

Sep 10, 2013

The Sun-grazing asteroid, Phaethon, has betrayed its true nature by showing a comet-like tail of dust particles blown backwards by radiation pressure from the Sun. Unlike a comet, however, Phaethon's tail ...

Near-Earth asteroid is really a comet

Sep 10, 2013

Some things are not always what they seem—even in space. For 30 years, scientists believed a large near-Earth object was an asteroid. Now, an international team including Joshua Emery, assistant professor ...

Recommended for you

SpaceX launches supplies to space station (Update)

12 hours ago

The SpaceX company returned to orbit Friday, launching fresh supplies to the International Space Station after more than a month's delay and setting the stage for urgent spacewalking repairs.

Quest for extraterrestrial life not over, experts say

12 hours ago

The discovery of an Earth-sized planet in the "habitable" zone of a distant star, though exciting, is still a long way from pointing to the existence of extraterrestrial life, experts said Friday. ...

Sun emits a mid-level solar flare

12 hours ago

The sun emitted a mid-level solar flare, peaking at 9:03 a.m. EDT on April 18, 2014, and NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory captured images of the event. Solar flares are powerful bursts of radiation. Harmful ...

Impact glass stores biodata for millions of years

14 hours ago

(Phys.org) —Bits of plant life encapsulated in molten glass by asteroid and comet impacts millions of years ago give geologists information about climate and life forms on the ancient Earth. Scientists ...

The importance of plumes

15 hours ago

The Hubble Space Telescope is famous for finding black holes. It can pick out thousands of galaxies in a patch of sky the size of a thumbprint. The most powerful space telescope ever built, the Hubble provided ...

Continents may be a key feature of Super-Earths

16 hours ago

Huge Earth-like planets that have both continents and oceans may be better at harboring extraterrestrial life than those that are water-only worlds. A new study gives hope for the possibility that many super-Earth ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Impact glass stores biodata for millions of years

(Phys.org) —Bits of plant life encapsulated in molten glass by asteroid and comet impacts millions of years ago give geologists information about climate and life forms on the ancient Earth. Scientists ...