The University of Arizona

Aerogel keystones: Extraction of complete hypervelocity impact events from aerogel collectors

Andrew J. Westphal, Christopher Snead, Anna Butterworth, Giles A. Graham, John P. Bradley, Sasa Bajt, Patrick G. Grant, Graham Bench, Sean Brennan, Piero Pianetta


In January 2006, the Stardust mission will return the first samples from a solid solar system body beyond the Moon and the first samples of contemporary interstellar dust ever collected. Although sophisticated laboratory instruments exist for the analysis of Stardust samples, techniques for the recovery of particles and particle residues from aerogel collectors remain primitive. Here, we describe our recent progress in developing techniques for extracting small volumes of aerogel, which we have called "keystones," which completely contain particle impacts but minimize the damage to the surrounding aerogel collector. These keystones can be fixed to custom-designed micromachined silicon fixtures (so called "microforklifts"). In this configuration, the samples are self-supporting, which can be advantageous in situations where interference from a supporting substrate is undesirable. The keystones may also be extracted and placed onto a substrate without a fixture. We have also demonstrated the capability of homologously crushing these unmounted keystones for analysis techniques that demand flat samples.


Aerogel;Cometary dust;Interstellar dust

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