Reader Bill Harris reminded me that tonight is the night that Stardust, NASA’s comet sample return mission, will return to earth carrying its cargo of aerogel that was exposed to the particles in the wake of Comet P/Wild 2. At 2:12AM PST on Sunday morning, the probe will jettison it’s cargo at 105,000 feet over Utah, and helicopters will recover the cargo. Interestingly enough, they anticipate that only 45 hits will be recorded in the square foot or so of aerogel, so they have a project similar to Seti@Home planned to scan the plates, but instead of needing your computer time, they need your eyes. The entire panel must be examined under high magnification, and they want to employ volunteer labor to help find these particle hits.
In any case, check out the link, consider volunteering, and stay tuned for more info as it becomes available.
Addendum: Phil Plait has a nicer writeup and reminds that if the weather is clear, you might be able to observe the reentry of the probe from the Western U.S. It’s cloudy and rainy here, so I doubt we’ll get any chances here. Too bad.
Addendum2: Surprisingly, it looks like it might be clearing up. I’m thinking of trying to snap some quickie video of the reentry. It will be pretty low on the horizon when it shows up here, and I’m not sure exactly the best way to photograph this thing, but we shall see. 🙂
Addendum3: Nope, while the sky was clear, I suspect that the local horizon to the north was slightly too high, and the object passed behind it. Oh well.