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JavaScript Web Application Does High Science


Tuesday, May 30, 2006; 04:23 AM

Innovative uses of JavaScript are not limited to building social networks and creating website bells and whistles.  An ongoing NASA project is using JavaScript and distributed computing techniques to locate miniscule particles of comet mater that were brought to Earth by the Stardust spacecraft.

Stardust@home is a distributed project whose main feature is the "Virtual Microscope" - a web application written in HTML and JavaScript that runs on most browsers. Using the online Virtual Microscope volunteers can search over the Stardust collector for the tracks of the interstellar dust particles.  The collector has 1,000 square centimeters of collection area, while comet particles can be as small as a millionth of a meter.  After the collector area is digitally  scanned, volunteers need to locate the telltale surface impacts that reveal the location of particles.

Participants must pass a test to qualify to register to participate. After registering and passing the test, they can use the  "Virtual Microscope" to search small areas of the collector for dust impacts by focusing up and down with a focus control.  Everyone who discovers a particle has the right to name it.

The Stardust spacecraft was launched in 1999 with the mission to collect particles from the Wild 2 comet.  It returned to Earth in January 2006. 

Startdust@home is a concept similar to SETI@home - distributing complex tasks to the computers of thousands of internet users, instead of doing these tasks in one central location.  Unlike SETI@home, the Stardust project does not try to harness the processing power of computers, but uses them only to distribute and present the tasks to humans.

You can do your part for science at http://stardustathome.ssl.berkeley.edu .  Just keep in mind that the Stardust team has not yet accumulated enough image data from the automated scanning microscope, and registration is currently closed but expected to open shortly.


The JavaScript powered Virtual Microscope. 



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