Stardust@home: How you can help NASA locate comet particles returned by the Stardust mission.

This “@home” project is a little different than the others. Instead of donating spare CPU cycles, you’ll be looking at movies of the Aerogel taken through a microscope, finding and reporting the presence of particles from Comet Wild 2. Click here to learn more about Stardust@home, and even sign up to help.

UPDATE 8/5/06: The Project has gone live, and is now in progress!
UPDATE 3/31/08: The Project is still in progress!

Scientists were presented with an unusual problem. How to microscopically inspect all of the Aerogel returned by the the Stardust collector, so that the primordial particles within could be extracted and studied in laboratories around the world, and to get all that work done in a timely way? There is simply too much work for the staff available, and they felt that any computer imaging system they created would be a poor second to human inspection. So, taking a cue from the many distributed computing projects in the world, they decided to ask the public to help.

The process will be to distribute a “virtual microscope” program to participants, each of whom will first complete a brief training session and learn to identify the kinds of objects the scientific team is seeking. After the training, home users can use the microscope program to access movies that show a small section of the Aerogel collection medium. The movies will simulate moving the focus knob on the microscope, thus giving a three-dimensional context from which to evaluate the specimen. (Coincidentally, about a decade ago I created and implemented a similar system prototype to detect cervical cancer. The 3D effect was immediately and effortlessly understandable, even by folks like myself who didn’t have formal training in microscopy.)

Visit the Startdust@home site to learn more about the science, the project, what is needed, and how you can help advance our understanding of the universe.

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