Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

February 18, 1999
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Aerogel For STARDUST
Credit: Courtesy NASA/ JPL/Caltech

Explanation: On February 7th, this honey comb of aluminum cells filled with aerogel was launched on the STARDUST mission to interplanetary space. STARDUST's goal is to capture dust from a comet's tail and return to planet Earth - the first sample return mission to a comet! This structure represents about 1,000 square centimetres of area for collecting dust trailing within 150 kilometres of the nucleus of P/Wild-2. Comet P/Wild-2 is new to the inner Solar System. Having spent its life in orbit between Jupiter and Uranus, this comet was deflected in 1974 by a close encounter with Jupiter and now orbits between Jupiter and Earth. Dust from P/Wild-2 should impact the aerogel at high speeds and come to rest leaving carrot-shaped tracks in this amazingly tough, transparent, ultra-low density material. Returning to Earth by parachute in 2006, the cometary dust sample will be analyzed for clues to the formation and primordial composition of our Solar System.

Tomorrow's picture: Fireball Meteor

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Authors & editors: Robert Nemiroff (MTU) & Jerry Bonnell (USRA)
NASA Technical Rep.: Jay Norris. Specific rights apply.
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