NASA’s Stardust spacecraft returned safely to Earth when the capsule carrying cometary and interstellar particles successfully touched down at 2:10 a.m. Pacific time this past Sunday in the desert salt flats of the U.S. Air Force Utah Test and Training Range. Launched in February 7th, 1999, Stardust rendezvoused with the Comet Wild2 in January 2004 and captured thousands of cometary dust grains in special aerogel collectors.
This is the first sample return from a solid solar-system body beyond the Moon and the first ever samples of contemporary interstellar dust ever collected. In order to search for the tiny dust samples embedded in the aerogel, scientists from the Nasa Jet Propulsion Lab at the California Institute of Technology are recruiting volunteers online to download a virtual microscope (VM) . The VM will automatically connect to a server and download so-called "focus movies" — stacks of images that are collected from the spacecraft using an automated microscope at the Cosmic Dust Lab at Johnson Space Center. Those interested may learn more and apply to participate at the following website: http://stardustathome.ssl.berkeley.edu/