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The Stardust spacecraft came back to Earth in January 2006. The main spacecraft let go of the sample return capsule. The capsule re-entered Earth's atmosphere. It then used parachutes to gently land in Utah. Scientists in a helicopter picked up the capsule.
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Images courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech; animation created by Windows to the Universe staff (Randy Russell).

Stardust returns - with comet dust!
News story originally written on January 11, 2006

A spacecraft named Stardust will soon return to Earth to complete its 7 year-long mission. Stardust flew past a comet and grabbed some pieces of dust from the comet. The spacecraft will return those dust particles to Earth so scientists can study them. The scientists hope to learn about comets, and about the history of our Solar System, from the comet dust.

Stardust was launched in 1999 and flew by the comet in January 2004. It snapped the best pictures ever of the nucleus of a comet as it flew past Comet Wild 2. It also grabbed some dust from the comet's atmosphere using a high-tech material called aerogel.

A capsule on the Stardust spacecraft will bring the comet dust back to Earth. The capsule has a heat shield to protect it when it re-enters Earth's atmosphere. It also has parachutes that will gently lower it to the ground. The capsule will land in Utah at around 3 AM on January 15, 2006. After it lands, crews in helicopters will pick up the capsule. They will take it to scientists who will open the capsule and get the dust particles out. The scientists will study the dust to learn more about comets.

Last modified January 11, 2006 by Randy Russell.

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