The Stardust comet probe, which just came back from its successful rendezvous with Comet Wild2 in 2004, brought back samples of comet dust for scientists to study. It also brought back samples of interstellar dust — particles from other stars than our Sun.
Scientists want to study the interstellar dust particles, but first they have to find them. The Stardust team estimates there should about 45 interstellar grains, each a millionth of a meter in size, in the probe’s tennis-racket-sized capture device. For the team to find just one could take 20 years of searching at high magnification.
So, in a new twist to distributed computing (like the SETI@home and Folding@home data analysis projects), the Stardust team wants home-based volunteers to scrutinize high-magnification videos of the capture device for the interstellar dust grains. Successful volunteers will be recognized in published reports as the discovers of the stardust.
The only equipment needed to participate is a computer with a web browser. For more details, check this link, or to go directly to the preregistration form, click here. Registrants need to complete a web-based training session before they can join the search team. There are no age restrictions, by the way.
Distributing computing projects take advantage of the internet to spread research and data analysis across thousands of locations. The Seti@home project participants run a small number-crunching program on their computers to analyze radio telescope data for signs of intelligent life. Folding@home participants run a similar program to “fold” proteins with the aim of finding cures for diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
The Stardust project, in contrast, uses distributed brain power to find clues to the formation of stars and stellar systems like our Solar System.