Enter the maze

Spotting Stardust

Computers are now better than humans at some things like playing chess, but there are others that humans still excel. Vision is one of them. Computers can still help in other ways though, as the stardust mission shows.

Star shining on planet

Stardust is a space capsule that has been collecting star dust in trays of gel for the last seven years. It did this by flying through a stream of interstellar dust that flows through the solar system. It contains the heavy elements that originate in stars. The capsule just landed back on earth. The problem now is to find the dust. Not too hard you might think, until you realize there are millions of pictures of the gel to search through and only a few dozen specks to find.

That is where the computers...and you come in. The scientists concerned think that humans will find the specks faster than computers as the human eye, or at least lots of them as can now be provided by the web, is extremely good at spotting anomalies. They have therefore set up a web site that allows anyone with an up-to-date browser to take part in the search. You could be the first person ever to see star dust.