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Stardust's seven year mission is to collect samples of the interstellar dust …
Trawling the cosmos
|Interstellar gas and dust in M16, the Eagle Nebula|
The spacecraft will fly to within 100km of Wild 2 at a speed of about 6.1km s-1. It will collect samples by exposing sheets of aerogel to the flow of cometary and interstellar particles. Aerogel is a low-density, silica-based material composed of individual features only a few nanometres in size, linked in a highly porous dendritic structure.
Because many organic molecules are very sensitive, some will probably not survive the collection process, so an on-board mass spectrometer will also provide compositional information. However, Nasa has stated that it will make the strongest effort possible to preserve organic components in an analysable form.
Those organic samples that are returned safely will be analysed by Sandford and others, using a range of analytical techniques, including mass spectrometry, gas chromatography, chemical reaction analysis, Auger electron analysis and infrared spectroscopy.
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