stardust

Ode to Aerogel!

Ode to Aerogel!

A story of invention:

Click the play icon above left to hear me read this to you!

The spacecraft designers were all in a tizzy
With a really tough job that was making them dizzy.
"A comet is coming! How can we catch it?
And chase down some dust, then home to Earth fetch it?


"The comet, Wild 2, will be rocky and icy
And dodging its jets will be chancy and dicey.
The dust blasting out will be awfully speedy.
Is hoping to catch some just being too greedy?


"Grabbing specks gently is really what matters.
We don't want to bring back a bunch of smashed splatters!"
So they set to work on some stuff they'd had word of,
Some stuff made of sand but with traits all unheard of!


It looked just like smoke but with shapes round and squarish.
Though hard to light touch, touch it hard--it will perish!
Dioxide of silica makes just one little part of it,
But nine ninety-nine parts of air is the heart of it.


"This stuff is so light that it's almost not there.
It seems to be solid but it looks more like air!"
The science guys wondered aloud what would go down
If comet dust slammed it quite hard. Would it slow down


The dust in its tracks? Would it stop the dust cold?
Would comet dust do the stuff damage untold?
So the stuff they called AEROGEL went through its paces,
Was blasted with particles and run 'round its bases.


"Huzzah!" cried the science guy on seeing the tracks
That the dust left behind. "Now we'll have no lack
Of clues where to look where the comet stuff landed.
We'll follow the cone tracks and there we'll be handed


A piece of a comet! A clue! How we got here!"
For comets can help us unravel the knot here
Of how all our planets, the Sun, moon, and space rocks
Became what they are now, with Earth in the Goldilocks


Zone of our system, not too hot, nor chilly,
Nor right in the path of too many rocks, really.
So off to the comet the aerogel blasted,
Carried by Stardust. The journey? It lasted


Five years! In a spacecraft all specially built to
Chase down and grab dust from the comet named Wild 2.
It's now heading home. "We're excited to see
What the aerogel brings us. Real comet debris!"


Artist's concept of Stardust capsule landing.

The Stardust capsule containing the comet samples returns to Earth(artist concept).

The real capsule lands safely on the ground.

The real Stardust capsule lands safely on the ground in Utah on January 15, 2006.

Engineers in clean room attire examine aerogel tray from Stardust capsule.

Scientists open the capsule and say "The collection of cometary particles has exceeded our expectations. We are absolutely thrilled to see thousands of impacts on the aerogel."

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