“Some of the techniques that we’re using are necessarily destructive — we take the samples apart atom by atom. We need to be careful not to consume the samples too quickly because future instruments may be well beyond our imaginations in terms of what’s possible. There’s a lot of nail-biting as we analyze these particles because they are so precious.”
These precious particles are among the oldest available for scientists to analyze — “closer to the original building blocks of the Solar System than we’ve previously had,” says Westphal. There are surely new surprises to come from Stardust as the analysis continues, but for now, Dr. Westphal and his colleagues are at the very cutting edge of understanding where and how our corner of the Galaxy was first seeded with the ingredients for life.