Feeds

NASA throws Deep Impact spacecraft at comet

Cosmic darts

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

NASA has is to send a probe on a collision course with a comet's nucleus to find out more about the composition and history of the bodies.

The mission, dubbed "Deep Impact", launches from Florida on 12 January and will arrive at its destination, the comet Tempel 1, six months later, on 4 July. It will then deploy a probe - a 360kg, metre-long, cylindrical projectile - that will collide with the comet at around 37,000 kph.

Scientists hope that the space craft will create a crater in the surface of the comet, and so allow them a glimpse of the interior. It is possible, however, that the probe will merely be destroyed on impact (it is designed to be) without damaging the comet at all.

The probe will carry a camera to capture images of the comet's surface as it approaches, but the mothership will be nearby, recording events.

"We will be capturing the whole thing on the most powerful camera to fly in deep space," said Dr. Michael A'Hearn, Deep Impact's principal investigator and astronomy professor at the University of Maryland. "We know so little about the structure of cometary nuclei that we need exceptional equipment to ensure that we capture the event, whatever the details of the impact turn out to be."

Deep Impact follows the launch of the European Space Agency's Rosetta mission. This mission aims to land on the surface of a comet and conduct a number of experiments, including analysis of the composition of the comet, and the interaction of the comet with the solar wind.

NASA's mission was originally scheduled to launch this month, but an equipment review found some faults that needed correction. It is schedule to depart on 12 January, but the launch window lasts a bit longer, and the mission will be able to go ahead up until 28 January. ®

Related stories

Burt Rutan takes a V2-powered wander down memory lane
Ariane 5 powers satellite into orbit
Mysterious Phoebe: Cassini's next fly-by
Comet chasers seek secret of life

The Power of One Infographic

More from The Register

next story
World Solar Challenge contender claims new speed record
One charge sees Sunswift travel 500kms at over 100 km/h
SMELL YOU LATER, LOSERS – Dumbo tells rats, dogs... humans
Junk in the trunk? That's what people have
The Sun took a day off last week and made NO sunspots
Someone needs to get that lazy star cooking again before things get cold around here
Boffins discuss AI space program at hush-hush IARPA confab
IBM, MIT, plenty of others invited to fill Uncle Sam's spy toolchest, but where's Google?
Bad back? Show some spine and stop popping paracetamol
Study finds common pain-killer doesn't reduce pain or shorten recovery
Forty-five years ago: FOOTPRINTS FOUND ON MOON
NASA won't be back any time soon, sadly
Jurassic squawk: Dinos were Earth's early FEATHERED friends
Boffins research: Ancient dinos may all have had 'potential' fluff
prev story

Whitepapers

Top three mobile application threats
Prevent sensitive data leakage over insecure channels or stolen mobile devices.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
Build a business case: developing custom apps
Learn how to maximize the value of custom applications by accelerating and simplifying their development.