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StarDust@Home Project Begins

Stardust AerogelFinally, after months of waiting and anticipation since January 16th when I first volunteered myself to this program, the [tag]Stardust@Home[/tag] project is now ready to be rolled out. A total of 115,000 volunteers around the world have signed up to participate in this once in a lifetime journey to search for [tag]cosmic dust[/tag].

[tag]NASA[/tag] announced that the Stardust@Home project will officially be at 11:00 AM Pacific Daylight Time on August 1st, 2006 which is pretty late compared to their original forecast of March 1st 2006. Volunteers are required to download focus movies and use a virtual microscope to scan the images.

If you are ready to take some time off and volunteer, NASA is still accepting assistance. Note that not everyone who sign up to help will get the chance as NASA is going to conduct an online test before acceptance. To sign up, visit http://stardustathome.ssl.berkeley.edu/.

This is the best part:

In recognition of the critical importance of the Stardust@home volunteers, the discoverer of an interstellar dust particle will appear as a co-author on any scientific paper by the Stardust@home collaboration announcing the discovery of the particle. The discoverer will also have the privelage of naming the particle! Each particle, as it is discovered, will be given some kind of alpa-numeric identifier (an address of sorts) for book-keeping puposes. But the name that people will actually call each particle by will be given to it by its discoverer. To also recognize the efforts of our volunteers who work hard, but may not find a particle we will invite the top ranked volunteers to come visit our lab in Berkeley for a special tour.

The inset (larger image)shows the current progress of this project. As you can see there are still plenty to do in terms of searching fot the dust.

Houston, we have a problem (2-August-2006 update):

We have shut down the training, testing and VM section of the Stardust@home website because of a problem in which random images of unknown origin appear in the focus movies. We do not yet understand their origin, but they are not images of the Stardust Interstellar Dust Collector. Because of this, we have decided to suspect the training, testing and VM on the Stardust@home website until the problem is corrected.

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Volunteer for Stardust@Home

Stardust Aerogel CollectorIn February 1999, NASA launched [tag]Stardust[/tag] spacecraft to travel 3.2 billion kilometres to collect a handful of [tag]cosmic dust[/tag] (dust from comet and interstellar). The dust are collected in January 2004 using tennis-racket-like collectors filled with [tag]aerogel[/tag]. The motivation for this scientific cause as posted in Stardust@Home’s site:

The scientific importance of these first solid samples from our Galaxy can’t be overstated. Interstellar dust and gas were the building blocks of our solar system, the Earth, and all living things, including people. We are truly made of stardust. But we don’t know what the typical interstellar dust grain looks like. Not even one contemporary interstellar dust grain has ever been studied in the laboratory! In January 2006, the Stardust spacecraft will return to Earth, for the first time, a few dozen precious contemporary interstellar dust grains. We are extremely excited about the prospect of directly studying contemporary interstellar dust for the first time.

The challenge that the scientific community is facing is rather ironic. They are able to send spacecraft to faraway-3-dimensional-lands to collect dust but once the dust return home, they need 20 years to search for the dust if they do it themselves. The problem is not finding the comet’s dust but rather the interstellar dust. It is estimated that searching for the interstellar dusts is like searching for 45 ants in an entire football field.

Therefore, NASA is now calling for volunteers to help comb the aerogels in search of the dusts. Not all volunteers will get a chance to scan the images as there will be a test and selection process. I’ve volunteered as I do not want to miss the chance to see a cosmic dust first hand and be credited if I find one.

As of the time of this post, the spacecraft Stardust has successfully landed in Utah. Work has begun and it is estimated that the first image for cosmic dust search will be made available on 1st March 2006. For more information and to volunteer, visit Stardust@Home.

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