An enhanced image of Comet 81P/Wild, from the Stardust spacecraft, showing surface detail and plumes of gas.
Comet Wild 2 (officially designated 81P/Wild) is a comet named after Swiss astronomer Paul Wild (pronounced Vilt), who discovered it in 1978.
It is believed that for most of its 4.5 billion-year lifetime, Wild 2 had a more distant and circular orbit. In 1974, it passed close to the planet Jupiter, whose strong gravitational pull altered the comet's orbit and brought it into the inner solar system. Its orbital period changed from 40 years to about 6 years, and its perihelion is now about one astronomical unit.
The 72 close-up shots taken from Stardust show a surface riddled with flat-bottomed depressions, with sheer walls and other features that range from very small to up to 2 kilometres across. The comet itself has a diameter of 5 kilometres. These features are believed to be caused by impact craters or gas vents. During Stardust's flyby, at least 10 gas vents were active.
Photograph taken by Stardust spacecraft
Details of the plume jets
Orbital data of Wild 2 (http://stardust.jpl.nasa.gov/comets/wildephem.html)
IAU Ephemerides page for 81P (http://cfa-www.harvard.edu/iau/Ephemerides/Comets/0081P.html)
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