The University of Arizona

Laboratory simulation of impacts on aluminum foils of the Stardust spacecraft: Calibration of dust particle size from comet Wild-2

A. T. Kearsley, M. J. Burchell, F. Hrz, M. J. Cole, C. S. Schwandt


Metallic aluminum alloy foils exposed on the forward, comet-facing surface of the aerogel tray on the Stardust spacecraft are likely to have been impacted by the same cometary particle population as the dedicated impact sensors and the aerogel collector. The ability of soft aluminum alloy to record hypervelocity impacts as bowl-shaped craters offers an opportunistic substrate for recognition of impacts by particles of a potentially wide size range. In contrast to impact surveys conducted on samples from low Earth orbit, the simple encounter geometry for Stardust and Wild-2, with a known and constant spacecraft-particle relative velocity and effective surface-perpendicular impact trajectories, permits closely comparable simulation in laboratory experiments. For a detailed calibration program, we have selected a suite of spherical glass projectiles of uniform density and hardness characteristics, with well-documented particle size range from 10 μm to nearly 100 μm. Light gas gun buckshot firings of these particles at approximately 6 km s^(-1) onto samples of the same foil as employed on Stardust have yielded large numbers of craters. Scanning electron microscopy of both projectiles and impact features has allowed construction of a calibration plot, showing a linear relationship between impacting particle size and impact crater diameter. The close match between our experimental conditions and the Stardust mission encounter parameters should provide another opportunity to measure particle size distributions and fluxes close to the nucleus of Wild-2, independent of the active impact detector instruments aboard the Stardust spacecraft.


cometary dust;Stardust mission;impact microcraters;SEM

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