Monday, April 12, 1999 Published at 07:09 GMT 08:09 UK
Balloon bags space dust
The Leonid meteor storm, seen here from Hong Kong, occurred last November
A Nasa weather balloon climbed high into the sky this weekend to capture tiny particles of space dust as they enter the Earth's atmosphere.
The balloon climbed to a height of over 30,000 metres (100,000 ft). It carried a Webcam so that Net users could follow the experiment as it happened.
Researchers, from Nasa's Marshall Space Flight Center, are keen to know more about these extremely small pieces of dust.
They conducted a similar experiment last November during the Leonid meteor shower, a regular astronomical event which occurs when the Earth passes through the debris left in space by Comet Tempel-Tuttle.
"It's a simple control experiment," says John Horack from the Marshall Space Flight Center.
"We've flown one balloon when the meteoroid flux at the very top of the atmosphere was high, and now we're going to fly another when the expected flux is low."
The particles of dust are caught in a special type of gel slung beneath the balloon. Back in the lab, the meteoroids can be analysed to reveal their precise chemical composition.
A remotely-controlled Webcam attached to the balloon recorded Saturday's ascent into the stratosphere.
Nasa issued an appeal for skywatchers to count and report back via e-mail the number shooting stars they saw during the period of the experiment.
Scientists hope these types of study will shed new light on the popular theory that comets and meteors "seeded" life on Earth, by bringing to the planet some of the basic chemical components necessary to construct living organisms.