Magazine article Technology and Children

Catching Comet Dust with Aerogel

Magazine article Technology and Children

Catching Comet Dust with Aerogel

Article excerpt

Scientists are very curious. They are fascinated even by specks of dust, especially when the dust is blasting out of a comet. In the case of comet Wild 2 (pronounced "vilt 2"), scientists went a long way to get some of that dust. Now they are waiting for it to come back home so they can study it. Of course, they didn't chase down the comet themselves. In 1999, they sent Stardust, a small unmanned spacecraft, to do the job.

Comets are icy, dirty objects left over from the formation of our solar system. Comets usually orbit the Sun way out beyond the orbits of the nine planets. Sometimes, though, one gets flung into the inner solar system as it passes Saturn. Saturn's gravity is so strong that it pulls comets into our solar system so we can see them. As it approaches the Sun, dust and gas start to boil off as the comet warms up. As the comet moves towards the Sun, the solar wind pushes the dust and gas behind the comet, creating the comet's tail.

Stardust's scientists had to figure out how to capture some of that dust and keep it safe for a trip back to Earth. They found a strange material called aerogel that seemed perfect for the job. Aerogel looks like smoke, except it is a solid. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.