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Cometary encounter

9:23am, June 29, 2004

Planetary scientists are feasting on close-up images of Comet Wild 2 (pronounced "vilt-two"). When the Stardust spacecraft flew within 236 kilometers of the frozen body on Jan. 6, NASA released five images showing craters, spires, mesas, and jets of gas and dust peppering the comet's craggy surface (SN: 1/10/04, p. 19: Taste of a Comet: Spacecraft samples and views Wild 2). Now, researchers have unveiled additional images as well as the first compositional information from the cometary encounter.

"We were totally stunned," says Stardust scientist Donald E. Brownlee of the University of Washington in Seattle. "We expected to see a subdued old surface like someone had dumped powdered charcoal on a body."

The 100-meter-high spires and other features suggest that the comet isn't

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