Bring a Little Stardust Home

It hasn’t been long since NASA’s “Stardust”  returned to earth, but scientists are already slicing and dicing microscopic specks of comet dust collected by the space probe. We’re talking “dust” that’s as old as the solar system, verified comet matter, seen for the first time by NASA scientists. Interesting stuff. Fortunately, NASA scientists are letting the public in on the fun. 

Stardust@Home  appears to be modeled after SETI@Home, in the sense that you can volunteer your computer’s unused resources to help with the project by performing mathematical calculations, etc. There’s just one significant difference. They don’t just want your computer’s resources. They want your brainpower too.

First, you will go through a web-based training session. This is not for everyone: you must pass a test to qualify to register to participate. After passing the test and registering, you will be able to download a virtual microscope (VM). The VM will automatically connect to our server and download so-called “focus movies” — stacks of images that we will collect from the Stardust Interstellar Dust Collector using an automated microscope at the Cosmic Dust Lab at Johnson Space Center. The VM will work on your computer, under your control. You will search each field for interstellar dust impacts by focusing up and down with a focus control.

If that sounds exciting to you, and you think you can pass the test, go pre-register to help them out!