Sunday, January 15, 2006

Stardust to land in less than 3 hours

NASA's Stardust spacecraft is less than 3 hours from landing on the salt flats of the Utah Test and Training Range. The spacecraft has been travelling in space for 7 years collecting particles from a comet in space. These particles are very important because comets are thought to contain the building blocks of the early solar system. Some even thought that comets may have brought life to Earth. From CNN:
Stardust captured particles from the comet's tail in a tennis-racket sized collection unit made with blocks of aerogel, a strong, lightweight silica glass that is 99.8 percent air and looks like frozen smoke.

"The fundamental reason for this mission is that we are collecting what we believe are the best preserved samples of the formation of our solar system and they are preserved because they formed these comet bodies beyond the major planets out beyond Neptune," said principal investigator Don Brownlee of the University of Washington.
Stardust will launch its capsule containing the comet particles once it nears Earth's atmosphere. The capsule will then enter our atmosphere and will land in Utah with the help of a parachute. Those who are living in California, Nevada and Utah can see the Stardust capsule burn through the atmosphere. From Desert News:
It will come in at 29,000 miles per hour, its heat shield creating a long blaze in the dark heavens. For those in the best places, "Stardust's return home will look like a bright, fiery meteor streaking from northwest to southeast," said Patrick Wiggins, NASA solar system ambassador to Utah and Nevada.

While it should be visible across a large swath of the northwestern United States, its landing state may not be a good place to see it. Wiggins said the best places to see it may be along a line from Elko, Nev., to Wendover. People there may also hear its sonic boom.
NASA is also covering the landing on its NASA TV. You can view it online here.

1 comment:

panda said...

very efficient in posting it up...wink wink

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