Scientists have confirmed that samples from a comet and interstellar dust have been returned to Earth by the Stardust spacecraft.

The scientist team opened the Stardust sample return capsule on Tuesday in a special facility at NASA’s Johnson Space Center (JSC), Houston.

“The collection of cometary particles has exceeded our expectations,” said Dr. Donald Brownlee, Stardust principal investigator from the University of Washington, Seattle. “We were absolutely thrilled to see thousands of impacts on the aerogel.”

Inside the capsule, a tennis racket-like sample tray holds the particles captured in a gel as the spacecraft flew within 149 miles of comet Wild 2 in January 2004. An opposite side of the tray holds interstellar dust particles caught streaming through the solar system by Stardust during its seven-year journey. The team is analyzing the particle capture cells and removing individual grains of comet and interstellar dust. They will be sent to select investigators worldwide.

Closeup view of a cometary impact (center) into aerogel was inspected by scientists at a laboratory at the Johnson Space Center hours after the Stardust Sample Return Canister was delivered to the Johnson Space Center from the spacecraft’s landing site in Utah. Image credit: NASA

Leaders of the science and curation teams will participate in a press conference at 10 a.m. CST Thursday from JSC. The briefing will be broadcast on NASA Television and question-and-answer capability for reporters is available from participating NASA centers. Key scientists also will be available for live interviews via satellite from 4 p.m.-6 p.m. CST Thursday.

Participants in the Thursday news conference will include:

  • Dr. Donald Brownlee, Principal Investigator, University of Washington
  • Dr. Peter Tsou, Deputy Principal Investigator, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
  • Dr. Michael Zolensky, Stardust Curator and Co-investigator, JSC
  • Dr. Carlton Allen, Astromaterials Curator, JSC

Video of the opening of the Stardust science canister and initial assessment of its contents will air on the NASA Television’s Video File beginning at 2 p.m. CST today.

NASA TV’s Public, Education and Media channels are available on an MPEG-2 digital C-band signal accessed via satellite AMC-6, at 72 degrees west longitude, transponder 17C, 4040 MHz, vertical polarization. In Alaska and Hawaii, they’re on AMC-7 at 137 degrees west longitude, transponder 18C, at 4060 MHz, horizontal polarization. A Digital Video Broadcast compliant Integrated Receiver Decoder is required for reception. For digital downlink information for each NASA TV channel, and access to NASA TV’s Public Channel on the Web, visit:

For still images of the canister’s opening and analysis, visit:

Brownlee and Zolensky will be available for live satellite interviews from 4 p.m.-6 p.m. CST Thursday. The interviews will be conducted on the NASA TV analog satellite. To arrange an interview, media should contact Eldora Valentine in the JSC newsroom, (281) 483-5111, by noon CST Thursday.

The NASA TV analog satellite is available on AMC 6 transponder 5C, located at 72 degrees west longitude, with a downlink frequency of 3800 MHz, vertical polarization. The audio is at 6.8 MHz.

For information about Stardust on the Web, visit:

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