The Stardust Mission is a unique Mission, because for the first time has a space probe collect dust particle from a comet and will bring back these samples to the earth. Previous mission to comets only took pictures and therefore the scientists are really curios to these samples, because comets consist of the remnants of the beginning of our solar system and can solve many fundamental questions.
The Stardust probe is an American space probe, developed by Lockheed Martin Astronautics, and launched on February 7, 1999 from Cape Canaveral with a Delta 2 rocket. Stardust is NASA's first mission to return particles from beyond the Earth Moon orbit (Apollo program) and belongs to the Discovery program.
The target of the mission is the Comet P/Wild 2, which was discovered in 1978 by the Swiss astronomer Paul Wild. At the starting time of the space probe the comet was 820 million kilometre away. Wild 2 have a rotation period of 6.39 years.
Stardust flew by Wild 2 on January 2, 2004. During the flyby it collected dust samples from the comet's coma and took detailed pictures of its icy nucleus. Already before the space probe flew by asteroid 5535 Annefrank on November 2, 2002 and took several photographs.
Comets are cold bodies, commonly known as "icy travelers" and are known to be the best preserved raw materials in our Solar System. 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 gravitationally bound to the Sun and 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 kilometres; however, they are irregular in shape, with longest dimension often twice the shortest. The best evidence suggests that comets are fragile.
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.
The total weight of the spacecraft including the propellant needed for deep space maneuvers is 380 kilograms. The overall length of the spacecraft is roughly 1.7 meters.
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