CU Shuttle Experiment To Analyze Dust Particles In Space

April 06, 1998

A University of Colorado at Boulder space shuttle payload designed primarily by students to analyze the gentle collisions of dust particles in space may shed new light on the sources of dust in planetary rings.

Joshua Colwell, a research associate at CU-Boulder's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, said the payload consists of six self-contained experiments, each holding a spring-loaded sphere projectile and a tray of ground-up basalt that simulates space dust. The projectiles will spring from small doors in each container and softly strike the dust anchored in the box-like devices.

The CU-Boulder payload, dubbed COLLIDE, is now slated for launch on NASA's space shuttle Columbia April 16.

Two camcorders in COLLIDE will record all of the activity on videotape, allowing the CU team to analyze the amount, direction and speed of dust ejected from the target trays by each impactor, said Colwell, the principal investigator on COLLIDE.

Although dust is ubiquitous in the rings of the four gaseous giant planets, how the dust is "knocked off" larger ring particles a meter or more across during their continuous collisions with each other remains a mystery.

"The rings are comprised primarily of large particles, but we see dust throughout the rings," said Colwell. "The dust is short-lived, so it acts as a very sensitive tracer of the dynamics of the larger particles. But to understand that, we need to understand each step in the life cycle of a dust particle."

The experiments will feature four different impact speeds, two different depths of dust -- each less than one inch -- and two different spherical impactor sizes. Powered by 18 size-D batteries, the experiments will take 25 minutes to complete and will generate 16 minutes of videotape.

"We can't perform these experiments on the ground because of the enormous gravity of Earth," said Colwell. "We need to get into space to simulate the collisions of planetary ring particles, which are relatively gentle."

Colwell and former CU-Boulder astrophysics graduate student Martin Taylor, now at NASA's Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, came up with the original COLLIDE concept.

Former CU-Boulder aerospace engineering graduate student Lance Linigir, now at Martin Lockheed's Sunnyvale, Calif., facility, designed the mechanical structure and impact experiments on the payload.

Graduate student Barry Arbetter of CU-Boulder's electrical engineering department designed and built most of the COLLIDE electronics. Other present and former CU-Boulder students who worked on COLLIDE include Damon Tohill, Rebecca Hage, Andreas Lemos, Wayne Hooper and Jack Loui. In addition, Adrian Sikorski, an undergraduate at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, Colo., designed and built several COLLIDE components.

The students were assisted by LASP faculty, instrument assemblers and engineers during each step of the process, said Colwell.

The payload is part of NASA's Get Away Special program designed for smaller payloads, which generally involve students. COLLIDE was funded by NASA's Microgravity Sciences and Applications Division through the Innovative Research Program and NASA's Lewis Research Center.


University of Colorado at Boulder

Related Dust Articles from Brightsurf:

Weighing space dust with radar
It is thought that over 1,000 kilograms of so-called interplanetary dust falls to Earth every day.

Water trapped in star dust
Dust particles in space are mixed with ice, as a research team from Friedrich Schiller University Jena and the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy has now proven in lab experiments.

Dust may have controlled ancient human civilization
When early humans began to travel out of Africa and spread into Eurasia over a hundred thousand years ago, a fertile region around the eastern Mediterranean Sea called the Levant served as a critical gateway between northern Africa and Eurasia.

New Research Provides Solution for the 'Dust Bowl Paradox'
During the historic drought and heatwave of the Dust Bowl, grasses better adapted to cool, wet climates moved in.

Impact of a second Dust Bowl would be felt worldwide
The climate crisis means that an agricultural disaster comparable to the Dust Bowl of the Great Depression can't be excluded in the long term.

Arabian Peninsula a trap for summer dust
Summer dust has been increasing over the Arabian Peninsula for the past decade with global implications.

How planets may form after dust sticks together
Scientists may have figured out how dust particles can stick together to form planets, according to a Rutgers co-authored study that may also help to improve industrial processes.

A dust-up: Microbes interact with harmful chemicals in dust
A new study indicates that the microbes we track into buildings--the microscopic bacteria and other microorganisms that thrive on our skin and outdoors--can help break down harmful chemicals in household dust.

Stars shrouded in iron dust
The Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias (IAC) has participated in a study which has discovered a group of stars very poor in metals and shrouded in a high fraction of iron dust, situated in the Large Magellanic Cloud.

Stop sterilizing your dust
A new Northwestern University study has found that an antimicrobial chemical called triclosan is abundant in dust -- and linked to changes in its genetic makeup.

Read More: Dust News and Dust Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to