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num2_s.jpgThank you for visiting and learning more about the fascinating Stardust mission. We have strived to create a comprehensive, enjoyable environment that tells the story of the Stardust Project. The Stardust mission was launched into space in early February 1999. Its destination - Comet Wild 2 (pronounced Vilt 2 after its Swiss named founder) its mission, to capture cometary materials before returning to earth in 2006.

Stardust will encounter Comet Wild 2 in 2004, while nearly 390 million kilometers (242 million miles) from earth. En route to the comet, the spacecraft will collect interstellar dust particles. These samples will provide a window into the distant past, helping scientists around the world to unravel mysteries surrounding the birth and evolution of our Solar System.



p50270_s.jpgComets are not only among the most spectacular events in the sky, but they are also unique, in that they are known to be the best preserved raw materials in our Solar System. Comets are cold bodies, commonly known as "icy travelers". We see them only because the gases in their coma and tails fluoresce in sunlight and because of the sunlight reflected from the solids.

Comets are regular members of our Solar System family, gravitationally bound to the Sun, generally, comets are believed to be made of materials that originated in the outer parts of the Solar System, but that did not get incorporated into its leftover "debris". Comets are thought to be composed of such unchanged primitive materials, they are extremely interesting to scientists who wish to learn more about the conditions during the earliest period of the Solar System.

Comets are very small in size relative to planets. Their average diameter is about 5-10 kilometers; however, they are irregular in shape, with longest dimension often twice the shortest. The best evidence suggests that comets are fragile. If you had a large piece of cometary material, you could simply pull it in two with your bare hands, as if it were a poorly compacted snowball.

Comets are believed to have brought water and an abundant variety of carbon-based molecules to earth in its late phase of evolution. Scientists also believe that comets have contributed an essential, if not leading, part to the start of life here on Earth. It is only through complex investigations that we hope to learn more about the nature of these cometary molecules and the role of comets in more detail.

Last updated December 29, 2003
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