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Abstract

We discuss the inherent difficulties that arise during “ground truth” characterization of the Stardust interstellar dust collector. The challenge of identifying contemporary interstellar dust impact tracks in aerogel is described within the context of background spacecraft secondaries and possible interplanetary dust particles and β-meteoroids. In addition, the extraction of microscopic dust embedded in aerogel is technically challenging. Specifically, we provide a detailed description of the sample preparation techniques developed to address the unique goals and restrictions of the Interstellar Preliminary Exam. These sample preparation requirements and the scarcity of candidate interstellar impact tracks exacerbate the difficulties. We also illustrate the role of initial optical imaging with critically important examples, and summarize the overall processing of the collection to date.