Mission Stardust




When scientists first analysed comet dust collected by the Stardust spacecraft earlier this year, they were surprised that the grains seemed to have all originated in very hot environments – the heart of a star (see 'Comet chasers get mineral shock'). Astronomers were confused at the idea that the star in question could be our own Sun. How was this material transported from the hot interior of our early Solar System to the cold, outer reaches where the comet actually coalesced? Their models of the Solar System, they feared, might have to be rethought. Read the story here.

Solar material in comet dust brings confusion about Solar System modeling – Comet born of our own Sun, Nicola Jones, Nature newsblog host, 14 December 2006


Fragments of a comet retrieved from space by NASA's Stardust mission have yielded a big surprise. The comet was thought have been formed exclusively in the icy backwaters of the solar system. Instead, scientists have found that some of the particles from Comet Wild 2 (pronounced "Vilt 2") had been cooked at near-record high temperatures. The discovery is forcing a new look at solar system formation and creating a tantalizing hint at the basic processes of biology.

According to the prevailing hypothesis, the solar system condensed out of an immense disk of gas and dust about 4.6 billion years ago, with the sun in the middle. Trillions of comets circled the outer edges, in a region called the Oort Cloud. Any hot material formed entirely near the sun, while comets consisted solely of icy material. That's what the Stardust mission was supposed to confirm, anyway. In January 2004, the spacecraft flew through Wild 2's tail and captured tiny particles in a special collector made of a glasslike substance called aerogel that was designed to trap comet grains without altering them.

Last January, Stardust's collector parachuted to Earth in the Utah desert and, ever since, scientists have been carefully examining its contents (ScienceNOW, 14 March). The results have thrown the conventional solar system formation hypothesis on its head. Instead of an orderly condensation from center to edges, it appears that the sun was a nasty baby, throwing frequent tantrums in the form of mass ejections. The activity cooked nearby minerals and then heaved them out for billions of miles, where they eventually were captured and preserved in comets.

"This comet may have formed far from the sun," says astromaterials researcher and Stardust team member Michael Zolensky of NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. "But things in it did not." Some of the grains found in the collector are the product of extremely high temperatures, well over 1500 degrees C, he noted here yesterday at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union.

Reporting in seven papers in today's Science, Zolensky and an international team of researchers also describe how the comet grains represent a surprising variety of minerals--including organic matter--which proves that the early solar system was a maelstrom of activity, with material spread far and wide within the protoplanetary disk. That could have huge implications for astrobiology, says astrophysicist and Stardust team member Scott Sandford of NASA's Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, California. If this is how organic materials were distributed in our solar system, he says, it likely happened the same way in other parts of the universe. "So if this is how life got started, it's a model for all solar systems."

A Hot, Crazy Start to the Solar System, Phil Berardelli, ScienceNOW Daily News, 15 December 2006

Related site Stardust mission background


The seven Science papers:


Comet 81P/Wild 2 Under a Microscope, Don Brownlee et al., Science 314, 1711 (2006)
|  Abstract »  |  Full Text »  |  PDF »


Impact Features on Stardust: Implications for Comet 81P/Wild 2 Dust, Friedrich Hörz et al., Science 314, 1716. (2006)
Abstract »  |  Full Text »  |  PDF »  |  Supporting Online Material »

Organics Captured from Comet 81P/Wild 2 by the Stardust Spacecraft, Scott A. Sandford, et al., Science 314, 1720 (2006)
Abstract »  |  Full Text »  |  PDF »  |  Supporting Online Material »

Isotopic Compositions of Cometary Matter Returned by Stardust, Kevin D. McKeegan, et al., Science 314, 1724 (2006)
Abstract »  |  Full Text »  |  PDF »  |  Supporting Online Material »

Infrared Spectroscopy of Comet 81P/Wild 2 Samples Returned by Stardust, Lindsay P. Keller et al., Science 314, 1728 (2006)
Abstract »  |  Full Text »  |  PDF »  |  Supporting Online Material »

Elemental Compositions of Comet 81P/Wild 2 Samples Collected by Stardust, George J. Flynn et al., Science 314, 1731 (2006)
Abstract »  |  Full Text »  |  PDF »  |  Supporting Online Material »

Mineralogy and Petrology of Comet 81P/Wild 2 Nucleus Samples, Michael E. Zolensky et al., Science 314, 1735 (2006)
Abstract »  |  Full Text »  |  PDF »  |  Supporting Online Material »




Letter to the authors of the seven research papers



To:       Dr Don Brownlee, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, et al. <brownlee@astro.washington.edu>
Dr Friedrich Hörz, NASA Johnson Space Center, Houston, TX, et al. <friedrich.p.horz@jsc.nasa.gov>

Dr Scott A Sandford, NASA-Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA, et al.<ssandford@mail.arc.nasa.gov>

Dr Kevin D McKeegan, University of California Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA, et al. <mckeegan@ess.ucla.edu>

Dr Lindsay P Keller, NASA-Johnson Space Center, Houston, TX, et al. <lindsay.p.keller@nasa.gov>
Dr George J Flynn, State University of New York at Plattsburgh, Plattsburgh, NY, et al. <george.flynn@plattsburgh.edu>

Dr Michael E Zolensky, NASA Johnson Space Center, Houston, TX, et al. <michael.e.zolensky@nasa.gov>

cc:        ma@astro.umd.edu, burnett@gps.caltech.edu

Date:    20 December 2006


Thus, material has been mixed across the solar system, from the innermost portion to the outer regions of the Kuiper belt where this comet originated… The first rock samples brought back to Earth from anywhere beyond the Moon, the tiny Stardust grains may contain the building blocks of the entire solar system.

Look into the Seeds of Time, Joanne Baker, Science 314, 1707 (2006)


Dear Learned Researchers,

Mission Stardust

It's yet another piece of the puzzle falling snugly into place. Stars are not born by accretion; to the contrary, the spinning central bodies – from galaxies to planets – are generally the very cause of the disks around them which they tend to replenish and maintain. And your breakthrough findings here give you the rock-solid proof of that final model (where "the tiny Stardust grains may contain the building blocks of the entire solar system" would be utterly an understatement). For the full picture, please be good enough to accept also the forwarded for perusal. Any comment would be gratefully received

Thank you and best regards.


Eugene Sittampalam


PS: Do challenge this final model to the satisfaction of your own physics department head, alone, and collect US$25,000, paid to the head beforehand! No joke; no scam; details in www.sittampalam.net. Merry Christmas!

---------- Forwarded message 1 of 2 ----------
Date: Oct 14, 2006 1:55 PM
Subject: Fwd: Cosmology gets precise; PW May 2006
To: howell@astro.utoronto.ca
Cc: nature@nature.com


Drs D Andrew Howell, Mark Sullivan, Peter E Nugent, Richard S Ellis, Alexander J Conley, Damien Le Borgne, Raymond G Carlberg, Julien Guy, David Balam, Stephane Basa, Dominique Fouchez, Isobel M Hook, Eric Y Hsiao, James D Neill, Reynald Pain, Kathryn M Perrett and Christopher J Pritchet


Dear Learned Researchers,

The type Ia supernova SNLS-03D3bb from a super-Chandrasekhar-mass white dwarf star, Nature 443, 308-311 (2006)

In reference to your above Letter to Nature, kindly accept the forwarded for perusal. In the final perspective, stars are born in nova-like ejections from the galactic core. A large chunk in the ejectum would bifurcate successively, in the rarefying outskirts, to transmute as the star cluster. Supersize stars may thus be found generally closer to the galactic hub where the field pressure would be high enough to maintain them. Your historical "Champagne supernova" observation, therefore, need not be an error or an oddball finding. It's more than likely that some of the supernovae we detect are of such stars in excess of the so-called Chandrasekhar limit. As the Editor rightly puts it in his summary, "So future cosmological studies may need to consider possible contamination from such events when calculating distances." I'm afraid some theories of the past, too, would now need a rethink, to say the least.

Wish you all the very best at this vast and exciting frontier of science.

Eugene Sittampalam



PS: In the context of stars, and also as taxpayers, you may find the following page, too, to be of interest.


---------- Forwarded message 2 of 2 ----------
Date: May 6, 2006 12:27 AM
Subject: Cosmology gets precise; PW May 2006
To: gil@ast.cam.ac.uk
Cc: silk@astro.ox.ac.uk, physics@iop.org


Professor Gerry Gilmore

Institute of Astronomy

University of Cambridge


Dear Professor Gilmore,

The Infinite Cosmos: Questions from the Frontiers of Cosmology

And when redshifts merge with the cosmic background radiation, no celestial bodies at that distance and beyond will be (discretely) detectable. Observationally, therefore, it will always remain an infinite cosmos to man, far from the cosmology predicted till of late. Still, we must have the greatness of mind to be rid of those preconceived notions, take a step back, remove our blinkers, to behold that larger picture now unfolding. For more, please also be good enough to click on The Cosmos (www.sittampalam.net/TheCosmos.htm) and other pages linked therein for perusal.

You may find The Galactic Superwind, too, to be of special interest.

Any comment would be gratefully received.

Thank you and best regards,

Eugene Sittampalam



PS: "…it is now a mere truism that scientists abuse the name of God in populist books." This is understandable of those minds unable to grasp the "infinite" picture, where the concept of God would transcend all current beliefs and yet, ironically, become most believable: If I can believe that I exist and that I am part of the fabric that I call nature, then God exists, because this perpetual motion machine I observe as nature is literally a part of that godhead – indefatigable and infinite, transcending man's space and time... (kindly see the last section of The Spin).


----- End of letter -----



other References:


Introduction to special issue / Look into the Seeds of Time, Joanne Baker Science 314, 1707 (2006)


PERSPECTIVE / Whence Comets? Michael F. A'Hearn, Science 314, 1708 (2006)

PERSPECTIVE / NASA Returns Rocks from a Comet, Don S. Burnett, Science 314, 1709 (2006)


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