Published: Feb. 22, 2021

Zoltan SternovskyZoltan Sternovsky
Associate Professor, Smead Aerospace & LASP
Tuesday, March 2 | 3:00 P.M. | Zoom Webinar - Preregistration Required

Abstract: There are currently two NASA flagship missions in development that will carry a dust analyzer instruments as part of the scientific payload. These are the Europa Clipper mission that will assess the habitability of this enigmatic Galilean moon, and the Interstellar Mapping and Accelerator Probe (IMAP) that will resolve some of the fundamental scientific questions about the local interstellar medium. Both of the dust analyzer instruments are provided by the University of Colorado. In addition, the Japanese Destiny+ mission, designed for a Phaethon flyby, also carries a dust analyzer instrument from Germany.

Coincidentally, these three missions are all to be launched in 2024, which will start the age of cosmic dust in a sense that there has never been a period in the history of space exploration with a paralleled science focus on these micron-sized solid. Moreover, the Parker Solar Probe (PSP) mission is in its prime exploring the near-vicinity of the Sun. PSP’s plasma wave instruments, just as similar instruments on previous missions, are sensitive to dust impacts occurring on the body of the spacecraft. The difference is that PSP planned on detecting dust particles as part of its science goals.

So, why is there such an increased interest in detecting and analyzing cosmic dust particles? The answer to this question is the tremendous success of the Cosmic Dust Analyzer (CDA) instrument from Cassini, and the advancements made in the interpretation of the collect mass spectra. This presentation will be a review of the recent history and current activities in the dust lab. Specifically, it will review the design and capabilities of modern dust analyzer instruments, and the supporting laboratory studies. The latter are enabled by the unique dust accelerator facility operated at CU and is used for characterizing the properties of impact ionization plasmas, calibration of mass spectra from known samples, or the understanding of the processes how antenna instruments detect dust impacts.

Bio: Dr. Zoltan Sternovsky is an associate professor of Aerospace Engineering Sciences at the University of Colorado in Boulder, Colorado, and a research scientist at the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, focusing on aerosols and dusty plasmas. His professional interests include laboratory plasma physics and related experimental measurements, and developing instruments for space. He holds a PhD and an MS degree in physics from Charles University in Prague, Czech Republic.