The University of Arizona

Characteristics of cometary dust tracks in Stardust aerogel and laboratory calibrations

M. J. BURCHELL, S. A. J. FAIREY, P. WOZNIAKIEWICZ, D. E. BROWNLEE, F. HÖRZ, A. T. KEARSLEY, T. H. SEE, P. TSOU, A. WESTPHAL, S. F. GREEN, J. M. TRIGO-RODRÍGUEZ, G. DOMINGÚEZ

Abstract


The cometary tray of the NASA Stardust spacecraft’s aerogel collector was examined to study the dust captured during the 2004 flyby of comet 81P/Wild 2. An optical scan of the entire collector surface revealed 256 impact features in the aerogel (width >100 μm). Twenty aerogel blocks (out of a total of 132) were removed from the collector tray for a higher resolution optical scan and 186 tracks were observed (track length >50 μm and width >8 μm). The impact features were classified into three types based on their morphology. Laboratory calibrations were conducted that reproduced all three types. This work suggests that the cometary dust consisted of some cohesive, relatively strong particles as well as particles with a more friable or low cohesion matrix containing smaller strong grains. The calibrations also permitted a particle size distribution to be estimated for the cometary dust. We estimate that pproximately 1200 particles bigger than 1 μm struck the aerogel. The cumulative size distribution of the captured particles was obtained and compared with observations made by active dust detectors during the encounter. At large sizes (>20 μm) all measures of the dust are compatible, but at micrometer scales and smaller discrepancies exist between the various measurement systems that may reflect structure in the dust flux (streams, clusters etc.) along with some possible instrument effects.

Keywords


impact processes;cometary nucleus;cometary dust;Stardust mission

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