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The Importance of Stardust

On this weekend's Dreamland William Henry asks NASA scientist Donald Brownlee the question we all want an answer to: is there life somewhere else in the universe? One way to get evidence about this is Project Stardust, which took off from the Earth seven years ago and returned on January 15th, bringing cosmic dust from the universe back with it.

The return capsule contains tiny bits of dust captured two years ago as it spewed from a comet called Wild 2. Each of the particles is much smaller than a grain of sand and when captured, they were traveling six times the speed of a bullet fired from a rifle. The collector also brought back interstellar dust grains flowing into the solar system from other stars in our galaxy. It's like a vacuum clearer sent into space?except that astronomers will carefully analyze everything in the dust bag.

Early Sunday morning, the spacecraft jettisoned its return capsule, which plunged into Earth's atmosphere at nearly 29,000 miles per hour, the greatest return speed ever recorded. A few moments later, after the capsule slowed to just faster than the speed of sound, a parachute applied the brakes and Stardust settled to the ground near Salt Lake City.

Brownlee says, "Virtually all the atoms in our bodies were in little grains like the ones we're bringing back from the comet, before the Earth and sun were formed. Those grains carry elements like carbon, nitrogen and silicon from one place to another within our galaxy, and they helped form the sun, the planets and their moons.

"I think [this project] tends to get overlooked because there aren't any people on board." But Project Stardust is of major importance, because it will give us a good idea about whether or not we are alone in the universe.

Art credit: NASA

William Henry is a fascinating guy, who moves from space facts to metaphor with the greatest of ease. Don't miss his new book and DVD on the mystery of Mary Magdalene. And listen to Whitley and William?s discussion about whether there really IS other life in the universe. In order to listen to this fascinating conversation, you have to be a subscriber, so subscribe today.

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