Now that NASA’s Stardust space craft has returned safely to Earth with its treasure — cometary and instellar particles — scientists hope these particles will provide them with clues about the nature of the universe from a long, long… long time ago. Say, 4 billion years? Around the time the universe was apparently created.
These particles (and maybe some other stuff, I wonder) were caught in aerogel, a porous material that is mostly air. The interesting particles are believed to be approximately a tenth the diameter of a human hair and located somewhere in the 10×10-centimeter slab of aerogel. Searching for the interesting bits is apparently going to be like “searching for 45 ants in an entire football field, one 5-cm by 5-cm (2-inch by 2-inch) square at a time.”
Your mission —should they choose to accept you — is to download graphic representations, called focus movies, of the aerogel and examine them for particles.
You can learn more about the haystack and the exceptionally exotic needles on [email protected], where you can also apply now for the search that will begin in mid-February. (The long-running search for significant radio signals from space, [email protected], provided inspiration for this new search for particles, but this work requires active humanoid participation.) The project is predicted to complete in October.