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cover of May 30, 2015 issue

Question Sheet: Capturing the Stuff of Space


Before reading:

  1. Why would scientists want to study stardust and other particles from outer


  2. How could scientists go about capturing a sample of comet dust?

During reading:

  1. When was the Stardust spacecraft launched, and what is its mission? See stardust.jpl.nasa.gov/home/index.html(NASA/JPL). 
  2. How close did the spacecraft get to comet Wild 2? 
  3. What is "aerogel" and how was it used in the Stardust project? 
  4. Describe three different tracks left by dust particles in aerogel blocks. 
  5. How are scientists planning to remove dust particles from the gel? 
  6. Why does Mendez describe looking for interstellar dust like "looking for 45

    ants on a football field"? How are scientists hoping to solve this problem?

After reading:

  1. What is interstellar dust? How do scientists normally study this material?

    See www-ssg.sr.unh.edu/ism/what1.html(University of New Hampshire). 

  2. What are some other uses for aerogel? Come up with two other ways scientists

    might use this material. See homepages.cae.wisc.edu/~aerogel/aboutaerogel.html (University of Wisconsin) or en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aerogel(Wikipedia). 

  3. What are some advantages and disadvantages of asking "ordinary" people to

    volunteer to help look for the microscopic dust particles? See stardustathome.ssl.berkeley.edu/(University of California, Berkeley). 

  4. What kind of information can scientists obtain by studying tiny particles

    from space? Come up with at least six different things that you can study about

    these particles. See stardust.jpl.nasa.gov/science/index.html(NASA/JPL). 

  5. Why do you think the Stardust spacecraft had to travel 2.88 billion miles,

    looping around the sun twice before it reached a comet, then coming back to

    orbit Earth? See stardust.jpl.nasa.gov/mission/index.html (NASA/JPL).


Who discovered comet Wild 2? Where does this person live? How are comets named? See www.windows.ucar.edu/tour/link=/comets/wild_2/wild_2.html (University Corporation for Atmospheric Research), www.nasm.si.edu/research/ceps/etp/comets/comet_names.html

(National Air and Space Museum), and www.ss.astro.umd.edu/IAU/csbn/comet.shtml (University of Maryland).


  1. Create an ad to get students to participate in the search for stardust. See

    stardustathome.ssl.berkeley.edu/(University of California, Berkeley). 

  2. Find another article at the Science News for Kids Web site that might compliment or relate to this article. How are the two articles related?

    Does it help your understanding of science to read these two articles together?

    Why or why not?


An aerogel sample has a density of 0.003 gram per cubic centimeter. How much does an aerogel tile that is 4 centimeters long, 2 centimeters wide, and 1 centimeter thick weigh?

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