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August 01, 2006

Stardust@home Is Starting

Today at 11am PDT, Berkeley University of California and The Planetary Society will launch a new internet collaborative effort called stardust@home. This effort will ask for the help of interested world wide web users in identifying particles of interstellar dust hopefully brought back to earth in aerogel collectors by the Stardust spacecraft.

Berkeley already  has an ongoing collaborative effort called seti@home (SETI stands for Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) which uses the power of distributed computers, via a screensaver volunteers can download, to perform Fast Fourier Transform analysis of radio telescope data collected over the years in the search for non-naturally occuring radio signals from space. The idea being that these radio signals may be voluntary or involuntary communications from an extraterrestrial intelligence.

The gist of what is asked of you is as follows:

By asking for help from talented volunteers like you from all over the world, we can do this project in months instead of years. Of course, we can't invite hundreds of people to our lab to do this search—we only have two microscopes! To find the elusive particles we are using an automated scanning microscope to automatically collect images of the entire Stardust interstellar collector at the Curatorial Facility at Johnson Space Center in Houston, we call them focus movies. All in all there will be 1.6 million such focus movies. These are available to Stardust@home users like you around the world. You can then view them with the aid of a special Virtual Microscope (VM) that works in your web browser. The VM downloads and displays these images, so that you can do just what someone sitting at real microscope would do: focusing up and down in each movie to look for tracks. To use the VM you will need a relatively fast internet connection, and the latest version of just about any web browser. To find out more about the system requirements for the VM visit our Technical FAQ.

Together, you and thousands of other Stardust@home participants will find the first pristine interstellar dust particles ever brought to Earth.

First, you will go through a web-based training session. You must pass a test to qualify to register and participate. After passing the test and registering, you will be able to login to the virtual microscope. The VM will automatically connect to our server and download focus movies. The VM will work within your web browser, under your control. You will search each field for interstellar dust impacts by focusing up and down with a focus control.

Posted on August 1, 2006 at 03:44 AM | Permalink

Comments

I've been doing seti@home for years. Easy, the graphics (the screen saver while it works) are cool, and just the idea of participation is fun too. The idea that your little piece of data has clues in it is great!

Posted by: binky at Aug 17, 2006 5:30:35 PM