This picture shows the shape and size of the orbit of Comet Wild 2. The comet's orbit is aqua. You can also see the orbits of Jupiter, Mars, and Earth.
Click on image for full size

Comet Wild 2

Comet Wild 2 is named after the scientist who discovered it. Paul Wild is an astronomer from Switzerland who discovered the comet in January 1978. Wild 2 is pronounced "Vilt 2".

It takes the comet a little more than six years to go around the Sun once. That is a pretty short time for a comet. Some comets take more than 100 years to go around the Sun one time! The orbit of the comet is not a circle. Its orbit is shaped more like an oval, which astronomers call an ellipse. When the comet is at one end of the ellipse it is as close to the Sun as it gets. When it is at the other end, it is far from the Sun. The orbit of Wild 2 brings it a bit closer to the Sun than the planet Mars. The orbit also swings the comet out beyond the orbit of Jupiter.

When we see a comet from Earth, what we really see is the dust and gas the comet gives off. The dust and gas form a fuzzy head called the "coma". They also form the comet's tails that are thousands of kilometers (miles) long. The solid part of a comet is called the nucleus. The nucleus is in the middle of the coma. The nucleus of Wild 2 is only about five km (three miles) across. The nucleus is much smaller than the coma or the tails.

A spacecraft named Stardust flew by Comet Wild 2 in January 2004. I took some very nice pictures of the nucleus. It also gathered some dust samples. It will bring the dust back to Earth so scientists can study it.

Last modified January 11, 2006 by Randy Russell.

You might also be interested in:

Traveling Nitrogen Classroom Activity Kit

Check out our online store - minerals, fossils, books, activities, jewelry, and household items!...more

The Comet Coma

As the ices of the comet nucleus evaporate, they expand into a large cloud around the middle part of the comet. This cloud, called the coma, is the atmosphere of the comet. It can extend for millions of...more

Nucleus of Comet Wild 2

The pictures on this page show the nucleus of a comet. These are the best pictures ever made of the nucleus of a comet. The nucleus of a comet is a big lump of ice and dust. This one is about five kilometers...more

The Stardust mission to a comet

Stardust is the name of a space mission that studied a comet. Stardust flew very close to the comet in January 2004. It took some very good pictures of the nucleus of the comet. It also grabbed some dust...more

Stardust Finds Amino Acid in Comet Samples

Scientists have found a type of amino acid in a sample returned from a comet. Amino acids are the building-blocks of proteins. Proteins are one of the most important types of molecules in living creatures....more

Comet Wild 2

Comet Wild 2 is named after the scientist who discovered it. Paul Wild is an astronomer from Switzerland who discovered the comet in January 1978. Wild 2 is pronounced "Vilt 2". It takes the comet a little...more

Comet Hale-Bopp

Comet Hale-Bopp was one of the brightest comets of all time. Astronomers witnessed the comet spew out intermittent bursts of dust. The surface seemed to be an incredibly dynamic place, with 'vents' being...more

Missions to Halley's comet in 1986

Six spacecraft flew to Halley's comet in 1986. There were two spacecraft launched from Japan, named Suisei and Sakigake, and two from the Soviet Union, named Vega 1 & 2. One spacecraft, ICE, was from the...more

Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part is sponsored in part through grants from federal agencies (NASA and NOAA), and partnerships with affiliated organizations, including the American Geophysical Union, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Earth System Information Partnership, the American Meteorological Society, the National Center for Science Education, and TERC. The American Geophysical Union and the American Geosciences Institute are Windows to the Universe Founding Partners. NESTA welcomes new Institutional Affiliates in support of our ongoing programs, as well as collaborations on new projects. Contact NESTA for more information. NASA ESIP NCSE HHMI AGU AGI AMS NOAA