Astro-Stan: Looking at Stardust
Flat Stanely goes to Space Sciences Laboratory
I went to visit the Space Sciences Laboratory in Berkeley, CA. I impressed them with my knowledge of outer space, and tried to be useful during my visit. They study comet dust returned by NASA’s spacecraft “Stardust.” They have samples of actual outer space material and look at it with microscopes to see what is in it. First I helped them to discuss the sample below.
This is a fragment of an actual comet named “Wild-2.” That is because it is the second comet that Dr. Wild discovered. In the next picture, you can see me discussing mathematics with Jonathan Levine, another scientist in the lab. It is important to think about how to study samples like this — each one is priceless. You want to make sure you have chosen the right way to study it before starting.
After deciding how to proceed, the scientists in the Space Science Laboratory look at their samples in a massive scientific instrument that costs $100 million! It creates light that is brighter than the surface of the sun, so they can see the samples very well. Below you can see a picture of it — it is the size of a small shopping center. They call this the Advanced Light Source, because it makes LOTS of light.
I wanted a closer look so they took a photo of me standing on top of the Advanced Light Source. Normally, you can’t stand up here when it is running because it is dangerous, so this was during a visit when the instrument was turned off.
Then they showed me the inside of the Advanced Light Source. Here the door is open and I am standing right in front of the doorway. Normally, this huge door is closed to protect us from the intense light inside (it would kill you). However, today it is open because people are improving the Advanced Light Source. The walls are several feet thick with concrete.
Did I say that this is a special kind of light called X-Rays? These are difficult for your eye to see, but they are very useful to scientists because they can take images through solid objects. That is why they need such a thick door to protect them. They thought I was very courageous because I wasn’t afraid to stand in the front door! In fact, I was so excited that I decided to check out the inside. Can you find me below?
The Advanced Light Source is not the only way to look at comets. They also use another kind of microscope called an “electron microscope.” It works like any other microscope, except that it uses electricity instead of light to look at small objects. This kind of microscope can see the smallest things possible — atoms.
You can see an image that I helped Zack take using the electron microscope. If you look at the dark object in the middle of the photo, you can see horizontal lines. Those lines are visible because the atoms are standing in rows — like troops at attention. This tells us something about the comet already.
Below, you can see me at the electron microscope. It’s a very fancy microscope! You have to look in the small glass window to see images.
They also use another electron microscope. It is very similar to the first one, but is for looking at special material brought back from the Sun by another NASA mission called Genesis. You can see an image that Zack helped me to take. It looks kind of like the moon doesn’t it?
I really liked working with the computer, so I ran the computer while Zack handled the sample from space. This electron microscope requires two computers just to run it. Therefore, Zack said that having me around was a big help!
Here I am with members of the lab – Zack Gainsforth and Anna Butterworth. Behind us on the shelf are the materials from outer space — the dust from a comet that I helped to examine.
On my way out, I got to hold a sample of material that flew on the MIR space station for a year as part of an experiment to find out about space junk. It captures little particles of dust that are orbiting around our planet and helped scientists analyze how much debris there is in orbit now.
There is a picture of MIR space station below.
I thanked Zack and Anna for hosting me and traveled on to my next adventure. I had a lot of fun in the Space Sciences Laboratory!