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This picture shows two views of the nucleus of Comet Wild 2 captured by the Stardust spacecraft during its January 2004 flyby. The image on the left was taken when Stardust was about 500 km (311 miles) from the nucleus.
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Images courtesy NASA/JPL.

Nucleus of Comet Wild 2

The image on this page shows the best views we've ever had (so far) of the nucleus of a comet. On January 2, 2004, the Stardust spacecraft flew past Comet Wild 2 at a relative speed of roughly six kilometers per second (four miles per second). During that flyby the spacecraft shot 72 pictures of the comet; these are the best two. The nucleus of Wild 2 is about five kilometers (3.1 miles) wide. Stardust passed within 240 km (149 miles) of the nucleus at closest approach.

The spacecraft entered the comet's coma, the vast cloud of dust and gas surrounding the nucleus, on December 31, 2003. Besides snapping the best-ever pictures of a comet's nucleus, Stardust also collected particles of dust emitted by the comet. The mission will return those particles to Earth in a small capsule that is scheduled to land in the desert in Utah in January 2006. Scientists are eager to directly study material from a comet since they expect to learn a great deal about those "dirty snowballs" from even a few grains of dust.

Last modified January 11, 2006 by Randy Russell.

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