Exploring the Solar System

Exploring Asteroids and Comets

How did the Stardust spacecraft capture cometary and interplanetary particles?

When Stardust was in particle-capturing mode, the return capsule was opened and an arm was extended away from the spacecraft. On this arm, which looked like a ten nis racket or catcher’s mitt, were flat mounted trays of Aerogel—a superlight, super-strong substance. When the particles struck the Aerogel, they would suddenly slow down from over ten thousand miles per hour to zero in a split second, embedding into the matrix without breaking or melting. When the particle collection was over, the arm retracted and the Aerogel was safely stored in the return capsule.


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