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Stardust: The mission that endlessly modified our understanding of comet

DA: Can you inform us about your expertise recovering the pattern collector? 

Brownlee: It was the nighttime in a really remoted Utah location [the capsule was recovered in Dugway, Utah, in the west desert near the Great Salt Lake]. The entry of the capsule was a marvel. It was [a] glowing pink fireball with a luminous tail coming in from the west. It was coming down and getting nearer however seen from floor zero it oddly climbed up within the sky. People close to [the town of] Wendover heard the sonic growth and a NASA plane acquired spectacular pictures as did a movie crew from Japan on the bottom. I used to be exterior to see the fireball after which inside to look at pictures from monitoring gadgets. It landed at midnight and it took a number of hours to seek out it. It was discovered by our helicopter crew and returned to a particular cleanroom facility ready for it the place it was inspected and ready for [a] flight the subsequent day to the Johnson Space Center in Houston. 

DA: What did the evaluation of the comet dust particles inform us? What had been the primary findings?

Brownlee: The main discovering is that the rocky parts of the comet, most of its total mass, shaped at pink sizzling temperatures. Comet formation included fireplace and ice. Some of the ice shaped at close to absolute zero temperature(s), however the rocky supplies shaped at white sizzling circumstances. Many of the supplies within the comet have additionally been present in meteorites. Comet Wild 2 is a broader mixture of parts suggesting that supplies from a broad vary of places had been transported out past Pluto the place the comet shaped. The rocky supplies largely shaped at temperatures above 1832 levels Fahrenheit (1000 levels Celsius) and couldn’t have had any ices or organics on them at their time of formation. The comet rocky silicate supplies shaped first, then assembled with ice and organics in a drastically colder place. This proved that the formation of comet dust and ice was clearly decoupled. The samples proved that the outer solar system was not remoted from the inside solar system, and that supplies had been clearly mixing over areas from close to the Sun to areas past the orbit of Pluto.

DA: Looking again on the mission all these years later, what are your fondest recollections of the expertise?

Brownlee: Launch: a very wonderful expertise when it’s your personal mission. I watched the launch from 1 mile (1.6 km) away, it was so clear that we might see the 4 stable rocket motors separate and fall with the bare eye.

The flyby: The pressure was simply unbelievable. No matter how cautious you’re, space exploration entails threat and unknowns, you’re concerned in an odd recreation of Russian roulette. Over the whole mission, [I] felt like a soldier on the seaside throughout D-Day [in World War II]. Bullets are whizzing round you, and also you hope that one doesn’t hit you. 

Atmospheric entry and restoration: The launch was so awe inspiring that many had tears of their eyes. This was nothing like seeing the fireball entry of the pattern return capsule in the course of the evening, in the course of the desert with a glowing luminescent tail behind it. 

Opening the collector: We opened the collector in a particular cleanroom on the Johnson Space Center. Mike Zolensky and I had been the one ones proper subsequent to it and when the aerogel array was lastly uncovered, we had been it from the again aspect. We couldn’t see impacts and the aerogel appeared even higher that it appeared earlier than launch. We puzzled if the collector had truly opened. We had been nervous however felt like we might see some seize tracks however [were] undecided as a result of we had been wanting by the again aspect of about 1.6 inches (4 centimeters) of aerogel. When the collector was flipped up, we might immediately clearly see seize tracks. 

Probably my best thrill of the mission was presenting the primary outcomes of the pattern evaluation on the annual Lunar and Planetary Science Conference simply 3 months after touchdown. When I confirmed outcomes to 600 folks packed into the room, you could possibly hear gasps and see jaws drop. We had gone to a sort of physique that’s famed for its ices, a physique whose dust was believed to be dominated by solids shaped round different stars. We had discovered that it contained the very best temperature materials that might ever have existed within the solar system. To discover such materials in a comet was revolutionary. Our modest mission had returned samples to Earth that informed us issues about comets that might by no means [have] been identified by distant sensing strategies. 

Doug Adler is the co-host of The Right Stuff Companion podcast and the co-author of the e book: From The Earth to the Moon: The Miniseries Companion

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