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American Association for the Advancement of Science

Stardust surprise -- Comet dust is mixed and varied

Researchers have only been able to speculate about the material in comets until now. The recent NASA mission brought the first samples to Earth from a comet. This comet dust is the first samples of material from beyond the Moon. Comets spend most of their time in the outer reaches of our solar system, only occasionally coming near Earth. As the comets get close to the Sun, ice and dust are swept out by the radiation and solar wind into a fuzzy halo, or coma, and long tail that we see.

"Comets are thought to harbor material for the rubble disk out of which the plants grew," said Joanne Baker, an editor at Science.

The Stardust Discovery Mission brought back 1,000 samples of dust from Comet 81P/Wild 2 for hundreds of researchers around the world to study. Instead of seeing the expected interstellar space materials, researchers have found that the material is a wide range of mineral from very different origins mixed together.

The materials were formed under hot and cold conditions, in the inner and outer parts of the solar system. This shows that the solar system materials have been mixed and spread around the solar system.

Astronomers will use these findings to create better models of the origin of comets and the of the rubble disk that formed the planets.