Astro News Briefs: October 28–November 3

Stardust Gets Some Practice

October 31, 2002 | The Stardust spacecraft, which will collect particles from Comet Wild 2 and parachute them back to the Earth, is about to get some batting practice. This weekend the spacecraft will use a close approach to minor planet 5535 Annefrank as a systems-operations test, which includes imaging the asteroid from a distance of 3,000 kilometers on November 1st. "It turns out to be a tremendous plus, because you end up having a full dress rehearsal more than a year ahead of the encounter," says Donald Brownlee, the mission’s principal investigator. Plans call for the spacecraft to fly within 100 km of Wild 2 on January 2, 2004, in order to collect particles streaming off the comet’s nucleus. Stardust will also image the comet, sending the closest-ever comet pictures back to Brownlee and his team.

For more information on the Stardust mission, go to http://stardust.jpl.nasa.gov/.