Active Cosmic Dust Collector

Grün, E.; Sternovsky, Z.; Horanyi, M.; Hoxie, V.; Robertson, S.; Xi, J.; Auer, S.; Landgraf, M.; Postberg, F.; Price, M.; Srama, R.; Starkey, N.; Hillier, J.; Franchi, I.; Tsou, P.; Westphal, A. and Gainsforth, Z. (2012). Active Cosmic Dust Collector. Planetary And Space Science, 60(1) pp. 261–273.



The Stardust mission returned two types of unprecedented extraterrestrial samples: the first samples of material from a known solar system body beyond the moon, the comet 81P/Wild2, and the first samples of contemporary interstellar dust. Both sets of samples were captured in aerogel and aluminum foil collectors and returned to Earth in January 2006. While the analysis of particles from comet Wild 2 yielded exciting new results, the search for and analysis of collected interstellar particles is more demanding and is ongoing.

Novel dust instrumentation will tremendously improve future dust collection in interplanetary space: an Active Cosmic Dust Collector is a combination of an in-situ dust trajectory sensor (DTS) together with a dust collector consisting of aerogel and/or other collector materials, e.g. such as those used by the Stardust mission. Dust particles’ trajectories are determined by the measurement of induced electrical signals when charged particles fly through a position sensitive electrode system. The recorded waveforms enable the reconstruction of the velocity vector with high precision.

The DTS described here was subject to performance tests at the Heidelberg dust accelerator at the same time as the recording of impact signals from potential collector materials. The tests with dust particles in the speed range from 3 to 40 km/s demonstrate that trajectories can be measured with accuracies of ∼1° in direction and ∼1% in speed. The sensitivity of the DTS electronics is of the order of 10−16 C and thus the trajectory of cosmic dust particles as small as 0.4 μm size can be measured. The impact position on the collector can be determined with better than 1 mm precision, which will ease immensely the task of locating sub-micron-sized particles on the collector. Statistically significant numbers of trajectories of interplanetary and interstellar dust particles can thus be collected in interplanetary space and their compositions correlated with their trajectories.

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