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This picture shows what an artist thinks Stardust might look like flying by Comet Wild 2.
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Image courtesy NASA/JPL.

The Stardust mission to a comet

Stardust is the name of a space mission that studied a comet. Stardust flew very close to the comet in January 2004. It took some very good pictures of the nucleus of the comet. It also grabbed some dust particles from the comet. The dust particles were floating in space near the comet. The comet Stardust flew by is named Comet Wild 2.

Stardust carried a strange material called aerogel. Aerogel is very light and fluffy. The aerogel was used to capture the dust from the comet. The dust was moving very, very fast when Stardust flew by the comet. The dust was going about 22,000 kilometers (14,000 miles) per hour! The fluffy aerogel was able to slow down the fast dust grains without destroying them.

Stardust brought the comet dust back to Earth in January 2006. Scientists are studying the comet dust. It will help them understand what comets are made of. Many comets are very old. They were "born" when our Solar System was very young. Studying comets may help us learn about the early days of our Solar System.

Scientists have studied some of the comet dust already. They were surprised by what they found. They found some minerals that form in hot places. But comets are big balls of ice. How did minerals from hot places end up on an icy comet? The minerals formed near the Sun. Astronomers have a puzzle on their hands now!

Last modified March 21, 2006 by Randy Russell.

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