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Stardust Sample Catalog Database

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About this Catalog

This Catalog summarizes the samples examined in the course of the Preliminary Examination Team (PET) of the Stardust Mission to comet Wild 2, and the results of the analyses of those samples. The Catalog is intended as a preliminary guide to the samples that are available for allocation to the larger planetary science community. Thus there is very detailed information about the samples that have been removed from the sample tray. In addition, there is enough detail about the samples that remain in the aerogel in the tray to permit investigators to request “fresher” samples as well.

Unlike the preliminary examination of the Apollo samples that was conducted by a small group of experts assembled at NASA’s Curatorial Facilities in Houston, the Stardust Preliminary Examination was widely distributed and involved over 200 individuals from a large number of institutions in approximately 28 countries. Stardust was a Discovery Class Mission led by the Principal Investigator (PI) Dr. Donald E. Brownlee of University of Washington, Seattle. Recognizing the need to access a wide variety of state-of-the-art analytical facilities, many of which are unique and available only at their home institutions, it was the Stardust Science Team’s desire to engage these laboratories in the PE, and to encourage broad participation by national and international researchers.

This broad participation required that the PE be organized into topical subgroups, each headed by a Team Lead. These groups were: (1) Mineralogy-Petrography, (2) Spectral Studies, (3) Bulk Composition, (4) Isotope Systematics, (5) Organic Components, and (6) Impact Features. Each group operated in a fairly autonomous manner, but the many interactions between subgroups assured that samples could be shared back and forth both within and between the groups to take maximum advantage of the samples.

The Stardust spacecraft launched on February 7, 1999, and encountered comet 81P/Wild-2 on January 2, 2004. Upon return to the Earth, the Sample Return Capsule (SRC) separated from the spacecraft bus and entered the atmosphere early in the morning on January 15, 2006, safely landing via parachute at the Utah Test & Training Range (UTTR) in Dugway, Utah. The SRC was removed from the spacecraft in the hours immediately following the recovery of the spacecraft at UTTR. Following transport of the SRC to Houston, the actual PE phase began on January 17, 2006, and terminated in August 2006 so that written summaries / reports could be prepared. The end of the PE phase also marked the end of the Stardust Mission at which time the Curatorial Office located at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, took complete control of the precious Stardust samples.

The principal inputs for this Catalog were generated by individual researchers and have been abridged and reformatted by the Curator. At the present time much of the actual data has been removed from the results, to give the individual researchers the opportunity to publish their results. Sufficient information has been included in the Catalog to permit investigators to intelligently request samples, and we anticipate that after a reasonable period of time all of the results from the PET effort will be available in an updated catalog.

The basic organization is by aerogel cell number and sample number and type. Thus, principal organizational headings are: (1) Aerogel cells, (2) Tracks, (3) Aluminum (Al) foils and associated craters, and (4) Misc. Samples. What we present here is an overview that summarizes the overall Stardust Mission, hardware- and sample-processing operations, and the tray-wide photodocumentation & surveys, along with the various techniques used to both document these extraterrestrial samples, as well as process or retrieve the actual cometary samples from with the capture medium (i.e., silica aerogel).

A large number of individuals contributed to the sample characterizations and the successful Stardust Mission, including spacecraft designers, manufacturers, flight controllers, and recovery personnel at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, and Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver. They all deserve thanks and praise for a job well done. It is hoped that this catalog will be a useful resource that will stimulate scientific inquiry into the early solar system for a long time to come.

Sample Nomenclature

Aerogel Cells

Sample nomenclature for individual aerogel cells and foils relates to cell number (# 1-132) as illustrated on the tray image, where the tray is mounted in its standard orientation on the Primary Scanning System (PSS). The interface with the deployment arm during cometary exposure is at the top in this orientation. The top is (arbitrarily) assigned N, the bottom S, the left side W, and the right side E. This becomes significant when referring to the locations of various foils.

The prefix C2 for any Stardust sample summarily relates to Cometary Tray 2 (Trays 1 and 3 were relegated as a flight-spare prior to launch). Similarly the prefix I1 for any Stardust sample summarily relates to Interstellar Tray 1 (Trays 2 and 3 were relegated as a flight-spare prior to launch).

All Level 2 and 3 imagery of individual aerogel tiles and foils consistently utilize the lower-left hand corner as the origin (X=0 and Y=0). Level 3 photography (top views) adopt this orientation as well. All side views of individual cells mandated that the cell be rotated by 90° around the X axis. As a result, the 0/0 point is moved to the upper left-hand corner of the tile/images. The Y axis on the PSS in this orientation becomes a measure of the horizontal or penetration depth from the tile's surface, while the Z-value on the PSS corresponds to the original Y-value in the top-view situation.

Aerogel Nomenclature Aerogel Tray Cometary and Interstellar Trays
Impact Features

A sample name begins with the name of the parent aerogel cell, for example C2126, unless the sample derives from a loose aerogel chip with unknown parentage. In the case of loose chips the sample name begins the chip name, for example “FC4”.

The second part of the sample name is the number of the separated aerogel piece that contains the captured particle. The parent aerogel cell “0”, and al subsequent pieces are numbered sequentially beginning with 1.

The third part of a sample number is the “track” number. Impact features (with captured (article residues) are called “tracks”. Tracks are numbered sequentially according to their removal from aerogel cells and/or first sampling.

Following (and meteorite) sample nomenclature, each individual track constitutes the parent of subsequent sub-samples, separated with a comma from its parent. For example, individual grains extracted from a given track are labeled “Track X, 1”, etc. and further subdividing of specific grains (e.g., into potted butts, TEM grids or other sub-splits) would become “Track X,1,1”, etc. 

So, for example the number “C2022,1,57,2,3” would be TEM grid “3”, made from grain “2”, from track “57”, which was located in aerogel piece “1” removed from aerogel cell “C2022”.

Because specific track morphology and residue content have no obvious relationship to specific host tile and tray location, the decision was made to not include track location or cell number or coordinates in the identifier. As a consequence each sampled track is assigned a number that simply relates to the chronological sequence in which the individual track was isolated or harvested, regardless of which cell it may have originated from within. The original location or cell is recorded in the Curatorial database and is not lost, but is simply is not part of the identifier.

Subsample Nomenclature Conventions
Aluminum Foil

All aerogel tiles share four Al foils with their neighbors, except those tiles located in cells along the tray’s periphery. By convention and definition, the foils were identified as N and W (i.e., the foils at the top and to the left of each cell were assigned the specific cell number and the prefix N or W, respectively, were used.

In utilizing such a convention, on certain peripheral cells possess S and E foils since there was no cell on the opposite side from which to assign the N or W value from. Each foil draped an individual tray rib in a continuous fashion (i.e., both sides and the exposed top of the rib). The exposed top surface was cut and isolated during foil harvesting and assigned an appropriate sample number (i.e., C2xxx, N1; the wall section facing the parent cell was assigned ,0, while the wall section facing the neighboring cell was assigned ,3 (after harvesting of corresponding cell).

When a given side (N, E, S, or W) possesses more than one foil, the foils are numbered beginning with “1” and continuing clockwise till all are assigned a unique sample number (Ex. N foil above).

Only Cells 107, 120, 129, 128, 122, 121, 108, 093, 092, 130, 131, 132, & 042 will possess an “E” Foil.
Only Cells 001, 005, 004, 013, 026, 042, 059, 075, 092, 108, 121, 122, & 130 will possess an “S” Foil.

Aluminum Foil Nomenclature

UV Fluorescence