Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Comet Tempel-1 Flyby - WOW!!!!

Hey Space Placers!

The Stardust-NExT flyby of Comet Tempel-1 was a success and then some.  There was a glitch in the sequence of photos relayed back to Earth but that was an inconvenience, not mission affecting. This glitch did delay the news conference held and disappointed people who had stayed up on Valentine's Day evening to watch the images return to Earth.

The first images were the long distance views - the closeups from the 112 mile flyby were downloaded much later - there were 72 images in all. The mission's objective was to see how much and in what way the comet had changed in the 5 years since it was imaged by the Deep Impact spacecraft in July 2005,  especially since the comet had undergone heating by the Sun during that time. With the details and clarity of the images the mission objectives were easily surpassed. The science team will be working with these images and other data for some time and our knowledge of comets will be greatly enhanced.

The photos were amazingly sharp and clear as you can see by this sample.

The bonus and to me highlight of the mission was the imaging of the area where the comet was hit by an 800 pound copper "bullet"  launched by the Deep Impact spacecraft in July 2005. The resulting crater could not be imaged by Deep Impact because there was so much water and dust kicked up by the impact that the impact area could not be seen. Because of that, many questions were left unanswered such as how big was the crater, how deep, could we see the interior of the comet via the crater walls and could we determine more about the composition of the comet?

Preliminary information is that the Deep Impact crater was about 500 feet across. I will post an image when it is available.

This mission "only" cost $29 million (see my blog tomorrow on NASA's budget) since we reused the Stardust spacecraft. The spacecraft has used up all or most of its fuel so it will wander in orbit around the Sun for eons to come.

Sky Guy in VA

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