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Last Updated: Sunday January 15 2006 11:43 GMT

Stardust capsule returns to Earth

Artist's impression of the Stardust capsule's re-entry to Earth's atmosphere

A capsule has returned to Earth following a seven year mission collecting dust from space.

The US probe Stardust collected about a million particles surrounding a comet. Stardust then released the samples on Sunday morning as it flew past Earth.

The capsule plunged through the Earth's atmosphere before landing safely in the Utah desert in America at 10.12am.

Scientists are hoping the space dust will give them clues about how our Solar System began.

The capsule reached speeds of 46,660kph (29,000mph) as it fell to Earth, making it the fastest re-entry of any manmade probe.

Eyewitnesses said it looked like a streak of light in the sky from some parts of America.

Frozen in time

Artist's impression of the Stardust capsule's re-entry to Earth's atmosphere

The probe captured the comet and dust particles using cells filled with a special ultra-light gel called aerogel.

It's the first time ever that a space mission has bought back space dust in this way. The probe also took pictures of the surface of the comet.

Scientists around the world are now waiting to analyse the comet dust samples.

Comets are thought to be a bit like cosmic time capsules because they contain rocks and dust which have not changed since the birth of the Solar System.