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Solid Smoke
Solid Smoke (click to enlarge)
 
 

Solid Smoke

Aerogel was used on the Stardust spacecraft to capture comet particles from Comet Wild 2. This image shows Dr. Peter Tsou handling the so-called "solid blue smoke."

Aerogel is an incredibly light, extrtemely durable substance - .8 percent of the volume is empty space. By comparison, aerogel is 1,000 times less dense than glass, which is another silicon-based solid. When a particle hits the aerogel, it buries itself in the material, creating a carrot-shaped track up to 200 times its own length. This slows it down and brings the sample to a relatively gradual stop. Since aerogel is mostly transparent - with a distinctive smoky blue cast - scientists will use these tracks to find the tiny particles.

Though with a ghostly appearance like an hologram, aerogel is very solid. It feels like hard styrofoam to the touch.

Image Credit: NASA

Credit: JPL



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Last Updated: 19 Aug 2008