Stardust Memories | Arts & Culture | Smithsonian
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NASA's Stardust capsule returned from a seven-year, three-billion-mile trip to collect dust from comet Wild 2. (JPL-CalTech / NASA)

Stardust Memories

Cosmic dust may reveal some of the uncovered secrets of our universe

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Space enthusiasts can now get an up-close look at the latest extraterrestrial explorer. In 2006, NASA's Stardust capsule returned from a seven-year, three-billion-mile trip to collect dust from comet Wild 2—the first mission to bring home a piece of the solar system from someplace other than the moon. Measuring just 32 inches in diameter—not much bigger than a standard car tire—Stardust was fitted with a special arm topped with squishy gel patches to collect comet particles without damaging them. "Like bugs on a windshield, except the [bugs] didn't get crushed," is how Air and Space Museum senior curator Roger Launius described the delicate collection process. NASA scientists will sift the comet dust for clues about the elemental makeup of the outer solar system. The stellar dust might even reveal how the composition of stars has changed over time, leading to insights into the origin of the universe. The capsule went on permanent display at the museum's "Milestones of Flight" exhibit on September 24.

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About Anika Gupta
Anika Gupta

Anika Gupta’s writing has appeared in India and the United States, including in Business Today magazine, where she serves as its first digital content editor, the Hindustan Times newspaper and Smithsonian magazine.

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