New imagery of comet released from Stardust
NASA/JPL NEWS RELEASE
Posted: March 19, 2004


This composite image was taken by the navigation camera during the close approach phase of Stardust's Jan 2, 2004 flyby of comet Wild 2. Several large depressed regions can be seen. Comet Wild 2 is about five kilometers (3.1 miles) in diameter. To create this image, a short exposure image showing tremendous surface detail was overlain on a long exposure image taken just 10 seconds later showing jets. Together, the images show an intensely active surface, jetting dust and gas streams into space and leaving a trail millions of kilometers long. Credit: NASA/JPL
Download a larger image here

 
On 2 January 2004, NASA's Stardust spacecraft successfully survived flying through the coma (dust and gas cloud) surrounding comet 81P/Wild 2, captured thousands of fresh cometary dust particles released from the surface just hours before, and is now on its way home for Earth return set for January 2006.

During the flyby, the highest resolution images ever taken of a comet's nucleus were obtained and have been the subject of intense study since the flyby. A short exposure image showing tremendous surface detail was overlain on a long exposure image taken just 10 seconds later showing jets (above).

"This spectacular composite image shows a surface feature unlike any other planetary surface see to date in our solar system", says Prof Donald Brownlee, the Stardust Principal Investigator from the University of Washington. "Other than our sun, this is currently the most active planetary surface in our solar system, jetting dust and gas streams into space and leaving a trail millions of km long."

Two other images are shown as a stereo pair and also as a red/green stereo anaglyph (below).


Stereo image pair of comet Wild 2. Credit: NASA/JPL
 

"The overall shape of the nucleus resembles a thick hamburger patty with a few bites taken out", says Thomas Duxbury, the Stardust Project Manager from JPL. "The surface has significant relief on top of this overall shape that reflects billions of years of resurfacing from crater impacts and out gassing".

Preliminary scientific results obtained from the Wild 2 encounter are being presented at the Lunar and planetary Science Conference in Houston, Texas by the Stardust science team.

Stardust will bring samples of comet dust back to Earth in January 2006 to help answer fundamental questions about the origins of the solar system. Additional information about the mission is available online at

Lockheed Martin Astronautics, Denver, Colorado, built and operates the Stardust spacecraft. The principal investigator is astronomy professor Donald E. Brownlee of the University of Washington in Seattle. Stardust is a part of NASA's Discovery Program of low-cost, highly focused science missions. JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA's Office of Space Science, Washington, D.C.


3D stereo anaglyph of comet Wild 2. Credit: NASA/JPL
 

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