Forgot to post about this last week. I'm sure you've all read the stories or seen it on the news. I'm just agog at this stuff.
Our solar system is 4.5 beeeeiiiiiiiiillllliiiiiiooooonnnnnn years old. That's, like, WAY older than Lush (to put it in perspective for you younger guys). What those rocket scientists at NASA did was to send this robot out about umpteen billion miles to capture debris from this comet, then brought it back to Earth for study.
There are SO MANY cool things about this project. I could get all technical and talk about the extreme difficulty they had in getting the lander back to Earth unscathed (relatively), the ballistics involved and the incredibly small window they had to negotiate to get that sucker to land where they wanted it to, etc, etc, but what steals the show IMO is Aerogel.
is essentially glass, but it's 99.8% air (gallery
). They used a tool filled with aerogel to capture the comet particles in as pristine a condition as possible, then sealed it up in a clamshell and brought it back to Earth. This stuff was invented in the 30s by some dude with a need for slightly more solid air (I guess). Go to the link and read up on it. My birthday is coming up this August - you all could chip in and get me some of this
So now they have these particles that are the closest thing we can get to what our solar system looked like just after the accretion phase ended about 4.5 billion years ago or so. This will tell us what exactly was going on then, help us to understand the mechanics of a building solar system and (possibly) give us further information about the origins of life.
What they're hoping to find are "organics" - or, the basic building blocks of life. These would be carbons and acids, or even little green men frozen in a primeval state (OK not that last part). Finding these things would go a long way toward proving the theory that life originated from "the stuff of comets" when the Earth was young and suffered from a near-constant barrage of cometary bodies. The theory goes that these basic building blocks of life were present in these comets which then brought them to Earth where life evolved in our life-friendly environment.
I totally dig this stuff. I should have been a scientist.