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Catching a Falling Star

Using panels that opened in space, then closed during the fall back to Earth, NRC scientists hoped to trap tiny meteoroids. (CSTM)

This elegant piece of apparatus (900008*) was designed and built at the National Research Council. Its twin was carried to a high altitude of 120 kilometres on a Black Brant. At altitude, the four petal-like panels opened to collect any tiny micrometeoroids that might strike the small panels. When the apparatus fell back to a predetermined altitude, the panels closed, trapping any micrometeoroids for scientists studying the formation of the Solar System. The tiny particles sought are often very delicate - rather like snowflakes. Travelling for millions or even billions of years - some of the oldest possibly coming from outside the solar system - they provide clues to the conditions of the gaseous nebula from which the Sun and planets are formed. Micrometeoroids can be collected in rain water, but are contaminated by air and moisture, while those trapped in space provide a "cleaner", more reliable, record of their origins and existence in interplanetary space. Unfortunately, no particles were trapped with the apparatus.

* The numbers in brackets are the accession numbers of artifacts held by the Museum.