With the successful return of the StarDust spacecraft, a lot of scientists are gearing up to see what story can be told from the cometary dust that was absorbed in StarDust's aerogel collector. StarDust was initially sent to Houston so that roughly 1.6 million digital images could be taken with a microscope. The field of view for each picture is smaller than a grain of salt! Next, samples are being sent out to 180 scientists worldwide to conduct their own research about our solar systems origins. Some really interesting analysis should come out of this mission.
However, scientists alone cannot get the job done. Due to the enormous number of images to analyze for interstellar dust impacts (see picture), the StarDust team is enlisting the help of volunteers. Similar to SETI@home or other projects found on BOINC (including this one), StarDust@Home will train volunteers to examine these images for impacts. You will have to pass a test based on an online tutorial. Should you make it that far, you will then download a virtual microscope to begin searching.
What's the scientific importance of all of this, you might ask? I'll let the StarDust team explain it in their own words:
The scientific importance of these first solid samples from our Galaxy can't be overstated. Interstellar dust and gas were the building blocks of our solar system, the Earth, and all living things, including people. We are truly made of stardust. But we don't know what the typical interstellar dust grain looks like. Not even one contemporary interstellar dust grain has ever been studied in the laboratory! In January 2006, the Stardust spacecraft will return to Earth, for the first time, a few dozen precious contemporary interstellar dust grains. We are extremely excited about the prospect of directly studying contemporary interstellar dust for the first time.
Volunteers will be recognized for their contribution. This is a great opportunity to be a part of something unique.