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NASA will send a 21-kilogram "vacuum cleaner" into space to collect stardust: why it's needed

Yulia PoteriankoNews
Cosmic dust can reveal many secrets of the origin and functioning of the Universe

Collecting dust in your apartment, you can now feel a little bit like a NASA engineer. After all, experts from the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration have decided to vacuum the Milky Way galaxy a little bit.

To do this, they will send a giant vacuum cleaner weighing 21.3 kg into space. The Interesting Engineering publication told more about it and its mission.

The thing is that tiny particles of interstellar dust floating in our galaxy can reveal many cosmic secrets. In particular, they can tell us more about the early years of the Solar System. To study them, scientists plan to send a device specially designed to capture them into space.

The device is called the Interstellar Dust Experiment (IDEX). It will be installed on the ship of NASA's Interstellar Mapping and Acceleration Probe (IMAP) mission.

The IDEX was developed by the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Recently, the device was brought to the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland for integration into the IMAP spacecraft.

The task of the space "vacuum cleaner" is to identify and analyze the composition of captured interstellar dust particles that enter our solar system from deep space. It will also study dust particles ejected by comets and asteroids.

Capturing these particles is a challenge, because they are not as common in space as dust at home. During its operation, the device can collect only a few hundred of them. Nevertheless, scientists hope to get a lot of valuable space information from them.

"These dust particles were born from supernova explosions, most of them have changed while traveling in interstellar space, but they are still the closest material we have to understanding the original building blocks of the solar system. Detecting and analyzing them in space opens a new window on the Universe," explained the mission's objective Mihai Goranyi, IDEX Principal Investigator and Professor at LASP and the Department of Physics at the University of California, Boulder.

The "space vacuum cleaner" is expected to start its journey in 2025. To capture dust, IDEX has a 20-inch-wide aperture. It will capture dust particles whose speed can reach more than 160,000 km/h.

Once trapped in the device, the dust will quickly turn into a cloud of ions, allowing the equipment to determine some of the characteristics of the captured particle, such as its origin and composition. IDEX is expected to operate for two years after launch.

The main IMAP spacecraft is designed to provide more information about two of the most important aspects of space physics: the acceleration of charged particles and how the solar wind interacts with the interstellar medium. Ten IMAP spacecraft will conduct observations from the Lagrange point 1, which is located about 1.6 million kilometers from the Earth.

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