Now more than ever the Stardust team needs your help! That is because out of the seven probable interstellar dust particles that we reported on in Science last year, four were unexpectedly found in craters in the aluminum foils on the collector. These particles were also much much smaller than the particles captured in aerogel, and like particles may be completely invisible in aerogel. Yet there is a huge advantage with the interstellar dust candidates in the aluminum foils vs. those in aerogel. For the particles in aluminum foil, we can measure their oxygen isotopic composition, something we have not yet figured out how to do for particles captured in aerogel. And an oxygen isotopic composition very different from values in the solar system is a smoking gun for interstellar origin!
Thus, we very much need to find more candidates in the foils. New images from the Stardust collector’s aluminum foil linings have recently been uploaded to a replica of the Stardust@home Virtual Microscope or VM. The new VM is basically the same as the one used for aerogel searching, yet there are three major differences. First, the images from the aluminum foil that you will be searching are not optical images, but are instead images made by a scanning electron microscope in Rhonda Stroud’s lab at the Naval Research Laboratory. In addition, with the aluminum foil search (or “Foils” for short) you’ll be looking at only one image at a time instead of a stack of images as with the aerogel VM. Finally, the scoring with Foils will also be different, at least for now. In the Foils search, a correct answer is scored as one point no matter how hard it is. We may change this later when we get a sense for what is hard. However, for now, you’ll be assisting us in the oh so important fine tuning.
Otherwise, as before, you’ll need to test and re-register for the Foils site. Please note too that this is a completely different and separate site from the original aerogel one. You may (or may not) use the same username as the aerogel site, but you will have to login separately for each. You can read more on the getting started page. Additional information about Foils can be found on the training and registration pages.
Thank you so very much for your continued support of this science. We look forward to working with you on this exciting new search for interstellar dust and can’t wait to see what you discover!