PCs, Users Can Search For Stardust

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UC-Berkeley’s newest shared computer project, Stardust@home, lets astronomy fans help track down grains of dust traveling from stars spanning the galaxy.

PCs, Users Can Search For Stardust
UC Berkeley Would Like To Borrow Your Computer

Imagine searching for a grain of sand out of an entire beach. Now imagine the beach is the size of the universe. You may want to pack a lunch and a change of clothes.

Or, simply join the Stardust@home program. Berkeley plans to make the program available to Internet users to help detect “a few dozen submicroscopic grains of interstellar dust captured by NASA’s Stardust spacecraft and due to return to Earth in January 2006.”

Why the big deal over dust? Because it’s true stardust the smart people at Berkeley’s Space Science Laboratory want to find when NASA’s Stardust spacecraft returns to Earth in January:

Though Stardust’s main mission was to capture dust from the tail of comet Wild 2 – dust dating from the origins of the solar system some 4.5 billion years ago – it also captured a sprinkling of dust from distant stars, perhaps created in supernova explosions less than 10 million years ago.

“These will be the very first contemporary interstellar dust grains ever brought back to Earth for study,” said Andrew Westphal, a UC Berkeley senior fellow and associate director of the campus’s Space Sciences Laboratory…

A statement from the university said Westphal expects to find about “45 grains of submicroscopic dust in the collector” when Stardust comes back. Doing so will need considerable computer power; Stardust@home turns home PCs into “virtual microscopes” and their operators into assistants who will scan some 1.5 million photographs.

Each volunteer has to pass a test to detect potential dust grain samples. Those who discover true stardust grains will get to name them, a nice little reward for their efforts. The Stardust spacecraft has a landing date scheduled for January 15th in Utah’s Salt Lake desert.

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David Utter is a staff writer for WebProNews covering technology and business.

PCs, Users Can Search For Stardust
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