Playing a Small Part in Understanding Small Things

The Cern Courier reports on a grassroots project that utilizes the power of the web– and the unused computing power of personal PCs– to help analyze the interstellar dust particles brought back by the Stardust space capsule in early January:

Finding the tiny interstellar dust particles in the Stardust Interstellar Dust Collector will be extremely difficult. The impacts created by interstellar dust can only be found using a high-magnification microscope with a field of view smaller than a grain of salt….. Stardust@home enables public volunteers to help in this task, which is done more accurately by humans than by any pattern recognition software. After a web-based training session, passing a test and registering, volunteers download a virtual microscope (VM). The VM automatically connects to the Stardust@home server and downloads stacks of images created by an automated microscope at the Cosmic Dust Lab at the Johnson Space Center. Each field can then be searched for interstellar dust impacts by focusing up and down with a focus control. The first images for scanning should become available in April and the project should be completed by October.

For more information on on Stardust@home, click here.