Thursday, June 17, 2004
Wild & crazy
This is an image of the comet Wild 2 (pronounced "Vilt"), taken by NASA's Stardust spacecraft as it did a fly-by in January.
Can you believe it? It looks too dramatic to be true, although I'm sure it's for real. The heavily cratered surface seems different from other comets we've seen up close. Probably the image was tinkered with a bit to bring out the highlights, but it's impressive nonetheless.
So is the mission: Stardust is not just taking pictures, it has captured material from the comet's tail and is sweeping its way back to Earth. In January 2006, if all goes according to plan, the spacecraft will land gently in Utah, and scientists will begin analyzing the comet material in the lab. A great example of what wonderful science can be done without diverting all of our money into sending astronauts to Mars (sorry, couldn't help myself).