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Click to enlargeStardust  Wild-2 Comet Flyby Art Concept

Buy this Stardust Wild-2 Comet Flyby art concept. High quality space picture, slide, or Duratrans backlit transparency. NASA photo Stardust 0297a. Wide variety of sizes.

The encounter of Wild-2 will occur on January 2, 2004, when the comet is 1.86 astronomical units from the Sun (almost twice Earth's distance from the Sun). At its closest approach, Stardust will be traveling at a speed of about 13,650 miles per hour relative to the comet. The passage through the most intensive rain of debris within the coma will last about eight minutes.

Stardust will approach Wild-2 from above the comet's orbital plane, then dip slightly below it. In effect, the comet will "run over" the spacecraft. Approaching from the sunlit side and northern portion of the comet, the spacecraft's flight path through the coma will take Stardust within about 100 miles of the comet's nucleus.

Stardust's navigation camera, which is fixed to the spacecraft body, will take images of the comet nucleus. The camera will be protected from direct hits because it faces away from the direction of the particle onslaught. It will record images of the comet through the reflection in a movable mirror.

Wild-2 is an ideal target in part because it has only recently been deflected from a distant orbit into its current orbit which brings it into the inner solar sytem. Its drastic orbit change resulted from a very close approach that the comet made to Jupiter in September 1974. Before that, the comet was in a much longer orbit and had made fewer passages of the Sun, so it is more pristine than most short-period comets.

Comet scientists anticipate that 1 to 5 percent of Wild-2's nucleus surface could be active with gas and dust jets erupting from the surface. With a relatively slow flyby, the existence and activity of jets should be well observed.

Credits: Stardust was built by Lockheed Martin Astronautics and is managed for NASA by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

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