“On Jan. 2nd, 2004, NASA’s Stardust spacecraft approached Comet Wild 2 and flew into a storm. Flurries of comet dust pelted the craft. At least half a dozen grains moving faster than bullets penetrated Stardust’s outermost defenses. The craft’s 16 rocket engines struggled to maintain course while a collector, about the size of a tennis racquet, caught some of the dust for return to Earth two years hence.

All that was expected.

Then came the surprise. It happened when Stardust passed by the core of the comet, only 236 km distant, and photographed it using a navigation camera. The images were intended primarily to keep the spacecraft on course. They also revealed a worldlet of startling beauty.” —NASA