Space Nerds Rejoice!
January 11, 2006 1:26 PM   Subscribe

Stardust@home. The Stardust spacecraft (discussed recently here) should land in Utah early Saturday, carrying in its hold a sprinkling of grains of interstellar dust. Researchers are seeking the public's help in pinpointing the submicroscopic bits of dust. Participants will sift through the hundreds of thousands of pictures of the roughly square-foot collector plate.
posted by ND¢ (21 comments total)
This is similar to the Seti@home project, discussed here.
posted by ND¢ at 1:33 PM on January 11, 2006

If I'm reading the article right, this really isn't much like SETI@home at all. SETI@home uses distributed computing, where each participant's machine automatically contributes a few cycles to effectively form a supercomputer. Stardust@home isn't automatic; it actually requires people to sit down and carefully inspect the images. In principle, they're similar uses of grassroots support to handle some of the grunt work of space research, but in practice they seem to be quite different.
posted by Faint of Butt at 1:41 PM on January 11, 2006

When I saw the words "collector plate," I unfortunately thought of those limited edition collector's plates showing scenes from Gone With The Wind and Lassie and whatnot, that you get with your junk mail.

Anyway, from the Stardust@Home site: "[Y]ou should search through focus movies as long as you're having fun doing it. ...We expect to start the search for interstellar dust in the Spring of 2006."

I signed up. I bet by the time I hear from them, I'll have forgotten all about it. Whee!
posted by Gator at 1:45 PM on January 11, 2006

Strange. Don't they have computers for this sort of thing?
posted by delmoi at 2:01 PM on January 11, 2006

Good god! Don't they realize that when the craft lands, it will do so in a small town, probably named Piedmont? And that the town doctor will pry open the collector on it, thereby unleashing a deadly virus, which will later be dubbed the Andromeda Strain after it kills the entire town's population? Won't someone think of the children! ;-)
posted by nlindstrom at 2:17 PM on January 11, 2006

Scientists never learn the lessons Hollywood has to teach us, and this will doom us all.
posted by RylandDotNet at 2:42 PM on January 11, 2006

delmoi, obviously computers arent up to massive repetitive data analysing projects.
posted by parallax7d at 2:42 PM on January 11, 2006

It's similar to the NASA clickworkers project, in which users cataloged craters on Mars.
posted by D.C. at 2:44 PM on January 11, 2006

Remember when Comet Fever struck Earth in 2006?
posted by Mr_Zero at 3:07 PM on January 11, 2006

Scientists never learn the lessons Hollywood has to teach us, and this will doom us all.

Dude, get a load of that Star Trek novelty font they used on the banner! NASA's learned a thing or two.
posted by pieisexactlythree at 3:12 PM on January 11, 2006

In the second link...
posted by pieisexactlythree at 3:12 PM on January 11, 2006

Image hosted by
posted by ND¢ at 3:27 PM on January 11, 2006

nlindstrom, I'm thinking it'll be more this scenario.
posted by brundlefly at 3:35 PM on January 11, 2006

Yep. NASA appears to have used the Deep Space Nine font which is commonly found on the web called "Bajorian" (sic)
posted by spock at 3:56 PM on January 11, 2006

And now the purple dusk of twilight time
Steals across the meadows of my heart
High up in the sky the little stars climb
Always reminding me that we’re apart
posted by Astro Zombie at 4:01 PM on January 11, 2006

I believe that the actual identification of the dust tracks can't be done by computer very efficiently. Basically it involves viewing a movie of a microscope focusing through different depths in the aerogel, and a computer wouldn't be able to correctly identify the tracks in the movie. Either that, or they just don't have the money to pay a bunch of programmers to come up with a fancy program that would do it.
posted by spaceviking at 6:20 PM on January 11, 2006

Hmmm this seems like a job for amazons mechanical turk if ever there was one. I doubt that sponge watching will be very fun for most people.
posted by scodger at 9:10 PM on January 11, 2006

Btw, if anyone hasn't seen Andromeda Strain yet, it's a pretty neat movie. The early 70s techno-philia is so obvious in the first half hour it's kind of funny; the fonts, sounds and especially the way human characters are presented only in machine-mediated ways. And the long slow decontamination trip into the bowels of the research station wouldn't show up in a movie today; it seems interminable.

See you on the other side of whatever evolutionary jump our species is about to make in combination with the comet dust heading our way...
posted by mediareport at 9:32 PM on January 11, 2006

That was a neat movie. The book's worth a read, too, if only to expose yourself to early Crichton so you can see how much he's improved over the years.
posted by Gator at 9:40 PM on January 11, 2006

Best part of the move?

The old wino who inists everything can be cured by drinking "squeeze" (sterno). And, in the case of deadly space virus fever, he was right.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:06 PM on January 11, 2006

My answering machine's message is a rip of the movie's soundtrack portion where the military guy calls on the secret phone, and is told "this is a recording. State your name, and your message, then hang up" -- complete with the background teletype noise. Very annoying and geeky, I know. ;-)
posted by nlindstrom at 9:11 AM on January 12, 2006

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