Exploring the Solar System

Exploring Asteroids and Comets

How did the Stardust mission return cometary and interplanetary particles to Earth?

With its collectors open, the Stardust spacecraft flew by Comet Wild 2 on January 2, 2004. On the morning of January 15, 2006, the return capsule was released toward Earth as the spacecraft skimmed the very top of Earth’s atmosphere. The capsule came in on a nearly flat trajectory at some 29,000 miles (46,500 kilometers) per hour—the fastest re-entry ever made by a man-made object. With a series of parachutes slowing it down, the capsule landed safely in the Utah desert with more than a million cometary and interplanetary particles safely embedded in blocks of Aerogel, ready for scientific study.


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