NASA scientists say that after seven years and four-and-a-half-billion kilometers, a space capsule carrying dust samples from an ancient comet has safely returned to Earth.
Search and recovery crews found the capsule intact early on Sunday, moments after its nighttime landing in the Utah desert in the western United States. Hours earlier, the capsule was released by the Stardust space probe, speeding through Earth's atmosphere at 46-thousand-kilometers per hour before safely parachuting to the ground.
In 2004, the Stardust probe collected millions of minute particles of cosmic dust from the comet Wild Two, which scientists believe contains some of the oldest material in the solar system.
The capsule will be taken to a laboratory in Texas, where scientists expect to open it Tuesday to begin studying the microscopic dust for clues about the creation of the solar system.