Volume: 04, Issue: 13 02/22/2006 
This image shows a comet particle collected by the Stardust spacecraft made up of the silicate mineral forsterite, which can found on Earth in gemstones called peridot, and is about 2 micrometers across. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Washin
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A heart-shaped comet particle extracted from aerogel. Image credit: NASA/JPL.
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This image illustrates one of several ways scientists have begun extracting comet particles from the Stardust spacecraft's collector. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of California, Berkeley.
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Other Articles in This Issue:
NASA's Spitzer Finds Violent Galaxies Smothered in 'Crushed Glass'
Greenland Ice Loss Doubles in Past Decade, Raising Sea Level Faster
Mercury Bright in the Evening Sky
Participate in Upcoming Science Events

Gem of a Comet Particle

A two-micrometer comet particle, collected by the Stardust spacecraft, is made up of the silicate mineral forsterite, which can be found on Earth in gemstones called peridot. As part of the first Sample Processing Cycle, the keystone of the first released particle was taken to the National Synchrontron Source at Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York and examined by the far-IR beam. The particle was shown to be cometary mineral and not secondary debris. As part of the second Sample Processing Cycle, the terminal particle – the particle at the end of the tract – was removed from the keystone for further analyses on Valentine’s Day. To the surprise of Dr. Peter Tsou, Stardust Deputy Principal Investigator, and his team, they found the particle to be heart-shaped. Dr. Tsou has been assured that this is the real shape of the particle.

This particle will be embedded in sulfur first with few wafers removed for mineralogy and petrology studies, and then the remainder of the particle will be pressed into gold foil for isotopic studies.

During the second Sample Processing Cycle, researchers removed four additional Wild 2 aerogel cells with relative ease, after having made some adjustments learned from the first cycle. All four cells are being scanned by a binocular microscope as well as the compound microscope to capture more of the smaller particle tracks. More keystones, quickstones, and microtomes slides are being made to supply the eagerly awaiting analysts around the world. They have also taken a sample from the largest capture tract without removing the cell from the Wild 2 tray, to provide definitive proof that the largest particles are from Wild 2 and are not secondary debris.

For more information about the Stardust mission, please visit the following websites:

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