• Small hypervelocity particles captured in aerogel collectors: Location, extraction, handling and storage

      Westphal, Andrew J.; Snead, Christopher; Borg, Janet; Quirico, Eric; Raynal, Pierre-Ivan; Zolensky, Michael E.; Ferrini, Gianluca; Colangeli, Luigi; Palumbo, Pasquale (The Meteoritical Society, 2002-01-01)
      It has now been about a decade since the first demonstrations that hypervelocity particles could be captured, partially intact, in aerogel collectors. But the initial promise of a bonanza of partially-intact extraterrestrial particles, collected in space, has yet to materialize. One of the difficulties that investigators have encountered is that the location, extraction, handling and analysis of very small (10 micrometers and less) grains, which constitute the vast majority of the captured particles, is challenging and burdensome. Furthermore, current extraction techniques tend to be destructive over large areas of the collectors. Here we describe our efforts to alleviate some of these difficulties. We have learned how to rapidly and efficiently locate captured particles in aerogel collectors, using an automated microscopic scanning system originally developed for experimental nuclear astrophysics. We have learned how to precisely excavate small access tunnels and trenches using an automated micromanipulator and glass microneedles as tools. These excavations are only destructive to the collector in a very small area-this feature may be particularly important for excavations in the precious Stardust collectors. Using actuatable silicon microtweezers, we have learned how to extract and store "naked" particles--essentially free of aerogel--as small as 3 m in size. We have also developed a technique for extracting particles, along with their terminal tracks, still embedded in small cubical aerogel blocks. We have developed a novel method for storing very small particles in etched nuclear tracks. We have applied these techniques to the extraction and storage of grains captured in aerogel collectors (Particle Impact Experiment, Orbital Debris Collector Experiment, Comet-99) in low Earth orbit.