A report presents a concept for an instrument to be flown in outer space, where it would detect dust particles — especially those associated with comets. The instrument would include a flat plate that would intercept the dust particles. The anticipated spacecraft/dust-particle relative speeds are so high that the impingement of a dust particle on the plate would generate a plasma cloud. Simple electric dipole sensors located equidistantly along the circumference of the plate would detect the dust particle indirectly by detecting the plasma cloud. The location of the dust hit could be estimated from the timing of the detection pulses of the different dipoles. The mass and composition of the dust particle could be estimated from the shapes and durations of the pulses from the dipoles. In comparison with other instruments for detecting hypervelocity dust particles, the proposed instrument offers advantages of robustness, large collection area, and simplicity.

This work was done by Bruce Tsurutani, David E. Brinza, and Michael D. Henry of Caltech; Liwei Dennis Zhang of Columbus Technologies and Services Inc.; and Douglas R. Clay of Skillstorm, Inc. for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. For further information, access the Technical Support Package (TSP) free on-line at www.techbriefs.com/tsp under the Physical Sciences category. NPO-30848

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Plasma-Based Detector of Outer-Space Dust Particles

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This article first appeared in the March, 2006 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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