Saturday, June 19

A fun game for journalists:

Compare The Ledes!
Four writers, four newspapers, one story--and four different ledes! Who'll get read?

  • The most revealing close-up pictures ever taken of a comet have scientists shaking their heads in astonishment. The rugged, diverse landscape of the comet Wild 2 is unlike anything they have ever seen or imagined: towering columns and spires rising above steep-walled craters and violent jets of gas and dust shooting skyward.

  • The first rocky particles ever collected from the heart of a comet are on their way back to Earth by spacecraft, and already they are amazing astronomers with evidence that they date back to the earliest formation of the solar system, scientists said Thursday.

  • Comets, according to the most popular current theory, are "rubble piles," agglomerations of primordial ice and debris loosely held together by gravity as they hurtle darkly through the solar system, perking up only when close exposure to the sun broils them away like celestial Roman candles.

    But the images of "Comet Wild 2," captured by NASA's Stardust spacecraft during a half-hour flyby Jan. 2, have left astronomers scratching their heads. This comet, at least, may be made of somewhat sterner stuff.

  • In the early years of our solar system, ice and interstellar dust out beyond the planet Pluto came together to form the comet Wild 2. For more than 4 billion years, this icy glob kept bits of raw planetary material frozen in its core.

    Now NASA's Stardust probe, on a mission led by University of Washington astronomy professor Donald Brownlee, is bringing some of that primal dirt — and its secrets — to Earth.

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