A space capsule bearing comet and star dust successfully made a parachute landing in the Utah desert before dawn today, completing a seven-year journey of almost three billion miles that could provide clues to the formation of the solar system. The 100-pound sample container from the Stardust spacecraft landed at the Air Force's Utah Test and Training range, southwest of Salt Lake City, at 5:10 a.m. Eastern time.
After its launching in 1999, Stardust circled the sun three times and even flew by Earth in 2001 for a gravity boost to rendezvous with comet Wild 2 near Jupiter. The spacecraft came within 149 miles of the comet on Jan. 2, 2004, extended a collector filled with a material called aerogel. This low-density silicon material, called "glass smoke" because it is composed of 99.8 percent air, gently slowed and trapped particles without significantly altering or damaging them.
Scientists believe about a million samples of comet and interstellar dust, most of them less than one-tenth the width of a human hair, are locked inside the capsule. Researchers around the world are awaiting the samples, hoping they will provide clues to the origin of the planets and other bodies in the solar system.
The grains are believed to be pristine remains of the birth of the solar system some 4.6 billion years ago. Studying comets not only provides clues to how the solar system was formed but could also help explain how certain materials and conditions combined to form life, researchers said.
This is the only "intelligent design" that should be taught in our schools.