Stardust encounters comet 81P/Wild 2

Tsou, P.; Brownlee, D.E.; Anderson, J.D.; Bhaskaran, S.; Cheuvront, A.R.; Clark, B.C.; Duxbury, T.; Economou, T.; Green, S.F.; Hanner, M.S.; Horz, F.; Kissel, J.; McDonnell, J.A.M.; Newburn, R.L.; Ryan, R.E.; Sandford, S.A.; Sekanina, Z.; Tuzzolino, A.J.; Vellinga, J.M. and Zolensky, M.E. (2004). Stardust encounters comet 81P/Wild 2. Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets, 109(E12S01)



Stardust successfully encountered comet 81P/Wild 2 on 2 January 2004 at a distance of 236.4 ± 1 km. All encounter investigations acquired valuable new and surprising findings. The time-of-flight spectrometer registered 29 spectra during flyby and measured the first negative ion mass spectra of cometary particles. The dust detectors recorded particles over a broad mass range, 10−11 to 10−4 g. Unexpectedly, the dust distribution along Stardust's flight path was far from uniform, but instead occurred in short “bursts,” suggesting in-flight breakup of fragments ejected from the nucleus. High-resolution, stunning images of the Wild 2 surface show a diverse and complex variety of landforms not seen from comets 1P/Halley and 19P/Borrelly or icy satellites of the outer solar system. Longer-exposure images reveal large numbers of jets projected nearly around the entire perimeter of the nucleus, many of which appear to be highly collimated. A triaxial ellipsoidal fit of the Wild 2 nucleus images yields the principal nucleus radii of 1.65 × 2.00 × 2.75 km (± 0.05 km). The orientations and source locations on the nucleus surface of 20 highly collimated and partially overlapping jets have been traced. There is every indication that the expected samples were successfully collected from the Wild 2 coma and are poised for a return to Earth on 15 January 2006.

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