Solid smoke and stardust

Recently I visited the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex at Tidbinbilla in the Australian Capital Territory, where they have a sample of aerogel, aka “solid smoke”.

Here’s me posing in front of the Big Dish at Tidbinbilla. Disappointingly, their cafe doesn’t have a meal called a ‘Big Dish’. Get onto that, CDSCC!

This ethereal substance was used on NASA’s Stardust probe to capture dust from comet Wild 2 and return it to Earth—along with a handful of precious samples of interstellar dust, giving a rare glimpse of material from outside our Solar System.

A 2 gram piece of aerogel holding up a 2.5 kg brick (image from NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Listen to our show from 27 August 2015 to hear all about it.

You can also hear our interview with British scientist Maggie Aderin-Pocock, host of the long-running astronomy TV show The Sky at Night, and who’s also known for answering important questions like, do we really need the Moon?