Wednesday, February 28 7:30 pm William R. Hewlett Teaching Center, Room 200 FREE
On February 7, 1999, NASA launched an ambitious but relatively inexpensive Discovery class mission to intercept the tail of a comet on the other side of the Sun and to return samples for analysis. In January 15, 2006, the Stardust mission capsule was safely recovered in the Utah desert, presenting to the world the first successful retrieval of extraterrestrial material from beyond the Moon. At once, the Stardust Preliminary Examination Team (PET) of more than 150 researchers began an analysis of the cometary particles that had been captured in aerogel, a glasslike substance that has the density of smoke. All PET members have agreed not to reveal their findings until a joint publication is made, which is expected to occur in Fall 2006.
This lecture will be the first public report at Stanford of what Richard N. Zare and his associate, Maegan K. Spencer, found as PET participants. It is hoped that the cometary material will help unlock some of the secrets of these small bodies that are often described as “dirty ice balls,” which hurtle through space in elliptical orbits that at their farthest distance from the Sun lie outside all the planets. By learning something about these tiny bits of a comet, the PET members hope it may be possible to discover more farreaching secrets about the materials that make up our universe and possibly more about its origins. A big question that scientists want to answer is whether comets brought building blocks of life to Earth.
Richard Zare Marguerite Blake Wilbur Professor in Natural Science PProfessor Zare has been a member of the Stanford faculty for 30 years, and presently serves as Chair of the Chemistry Department. He is a celebrated teacher and researcher, and is the recipient of dozens of international prizes, most recently the Laurance and Naomi Carpenter Hoagland Prize for excellence in Undergraduate Teaching, the ACS (Northeastern Section) James Flack Norris Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Teaching of Chemistry (2004), and the Wolf Prize in Chemistry (2005).