Icy, rocky, sometimes dusty, always mysterious – comets and asteroids are among the Solar System's very oldest inhabitants, formed within a swirling cloud of gas and dust in the area of space that eventually hosted the Sun and its planets. Locked within each of these extra-terrestrial objects is the 4.6-billion-year wisdom of Solar System events, and by studying them at close quarters using spacecraft we can coerce them into revealing their closely-guarded secrets. This offers us the chance to answer some fundamental questions about our planet and its inhabitants.
Exploring comets and asteroids also allows us to shape the story of Earth's future, enabling us to protect our precious planet from the threat of a catastrophic impact from space, and maybe to even recover valuable raw materials from them. This cosmic bounty could be as useful in space as it is on Earth, providing the necessary fuel and supplies for humans as they voyage into deep space to explore more distant locations within the Solar System.
Catching Stardust tells the story of these enigmatic celestial objects, revealing how scientists are using them to help understand a crucial time in our history – the birth of the Solar System, and everything contained within it.
Natalie Starkey is a geologist and cosmochemist. Following a PhD at Edinburgh University studying the geochemistry of Arctic volcanoes, Natalie's post-doctoral work at The Open University shifted her research focus to comet and asteroid samples. It was at this time she got the chance to analyse samples returned by the NASA Stardust and JAXA Hayabusa space missions.Natalie's passion for her research makes her a keen science communicator. She received a British Science Association Media Fellowship in 2013, and regularly appears on television and radio internationally, as well as being a science host on Neil deGrasse Tyson's popular StarTalk Radio. Her writing includes numerous articles for the Guardian, and she is a regular contributor to The Conversation website.@starkeystardust / nataliestarkey.com