Links to broadcast quality audio files and transcripts -- Dr. Scott Sandford, astrophysicist at NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., was interviewed about the Stardust comet sample-return mission humanitys first opportunity to study the original material from which our solar system was built. Launched in 1999, the mission is flying to a rendezvous with the Wild-2 (pronounced VILD-TWO) comet in 2004 and is scheduled to return samples of cometary dust to Earth in 2006. The stardust mission is slated to be the first to return a sample from outside the Earths moon system. More information about the mission is on the Internet at: http://stardust.jpl.nasa.gov/
This interview was posted on the web April 28, 2003. Sandford provided these comments prior to a talk he gave about the mission at Foothill College, Los Altos Hills, Calif. on April 23.
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8. How will you examine and analyze the returned cometary materials?(1:26 minutes)
Dr. Scott Sandford: "Studying this kind of material these microscopic grains can be quite a challenge because you dont have a lot material. Its not like a moon rock where youve got a big lump, and you can poke it with a stick, and hit it with a hammer, and so on. Ah, but fortunately for the Stardust mission, techniques for looking at these tiny, tiny grains have been developed for the last 20 or 25 years as part of other scientific programs. In particular, NASA has been collecting comic dust in the upper atmosphere using high altitude aircraft since the 80s, and so, theres a community thats been studying those little grains for a long time. In addition, there are a lot of people who have been studying microscopic mineral grains found in meteorites which on the basic of isotopic anomalies we know are grains that pre-date the solar system. So, theres a modest-sized community out there that for many years has been studying microscopic grains to understand what they can tell us about the solar system, and even what came before the solar system. These techniques are fairly varied, but they usually involve fairly sophisticated technology. But people can do electron microscopy. They use things called ion probes to measure isotopic ratios and the elements that are present in the minerals. You can umm take infrared spectra of the grains, and use that to compare to spectra taken through telescopes so you can try to compare what you have in your hands with what you see out in space. There are just a whole host of techniques that have been developed over the years, actually."
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