Comets

Comets are small, icy bodies that formed in the cold outer regions of the early solar system

We are studying cometary materials collected by NASA's Stardust spacecraft to learn about their formation and evolution.

Primordial materials found in comets may preserve details of the early solar system, including:

  • temperatures
  • materials available 
  • heating and cooling rates

We are studying cometary samples to better understand the conditions and processes operating in this early environment. 

Stardust mission

NASA’s Stardust mission returned fresh samples of comet 81P/Wild2, providing a unique opportunity to study cometary materials.  

The samples impacted into the spacecraft’s collector at approximately 6km per second. Laboratory studies are therefore required to determine the effects of capture on the cometary materials. 

Our scientists and analytical facilities are examining:

  • stardust samples
  • laboratory impact analogues produced to investigate the effects of capture
Results

Studies of the Stardust samples have identified:

  • Glycine, a biologically significant molecule.
  • Abundant inner Solar System materials, including some high temperature components that formed extremely close to the early Sun. This indicates that transport of material was more widespread than previously believed.

Impact analogue studies have revealed which characteristics of the collected particle (eg chemistry, size, shape) survive and which can or cannot be deduced after impact. 

Project staff

The project also involves national and international collaborators.