Feeds

Deep Impact makes an impression on Tempel-1

(Big) bang on target

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

At around ten-to-seven this morning (BST) the NASA space probe Deep Impact lived up to its name and smashed into the Comet Tempel-1. The impact sent up a cloud of dust and gas far bigger than anyone had expected, making the comet, briefly, almost 11-times brighter than it was previously.

NASA TV image of the impact as seen from the fly-by vehicle

Deep Impact is a two-spacecraft mission designed to smash a 360kg probe into the nucleus of a comet, giving scientists their first ever glimpse of what lies below the surface layer of the nucleus.

Footage of the approach of the impactor showed the on-board cameras being buffeted by dust and debris from the comet, and the optics being gradually sandblasted down. A NASA spokesman commented: "Our brave little spacecraft is in a very hostile environment".

As the craft got closer to the nucleus, although the image remained quite grey and fuzzy, it was possible to make out craters on the surface of the 14km by 4km rock. NASA was aiming to hit the comet within one kilometre of its centre of mass, and when the impactor hit on target, the scientists at NASA mission control were jumping up and down, cheering, as you might expect.

Meanwhile back at the London press conference, reactions were a little more muted. It was only just 7:00am, after all. But once the images from the Faulkes telescope in Hawaii started coming in, everyone perked up a treat.

Steve Miller at the UK Infra Red Telescope, also based in Hawaii, told the assembled press (via the miracle of long distance telephony): "This is an enormous artificial outburst. The flare is still brightening as I'm watching it. It is well over ten times brighter than before the impact. Immediately after the probe hit, it doubled in brightness, and it has been steadily increasing ever since then."

The brightness reached a plateau at around 11 times its original intensity, before dropping off to about half that value. The researchers speculate that this increased brightness could be maintained for a number of days.

Professor John Zarnecki, one of the lead scientists in the Huygens mission, speculated that the increased brightness could be a combination of more material being dislodged, and the size of the particles being smaller. "More surface means more light," he explained.

Comet Tempel-1 getting brighter after impact. Images: Faulkes

Dr. Andrew Coates from the University of London's Mullard Space Science laboratory said that the images were hugely beyond expectations.

"We've had clues from other flybys, but now we can peer under the surface for the first time," he told The Register. "What we're seeing is unprocessed material left over from the early solar system."

He explained that the spectroscopic analysis of the cloud of dust would give scientists an idea of the ratio of various materials within the comet. "We'll really be able to constrain our models with the new data," he added.

Professor Monica Grady from the Open University said that she was particularly excited to see the ratio of organics to water in the dust. "How much organic material was around at the beginning of the solar system? This will help us understand the role comets played in seeding the building blocks of life, and Tempel-1 will show us what those blocks actually are."

She said she expected to see chains of carbon, polycyclics, ethanol and possibly even amino acids in the dust cloud. "But," she told us, "I would be absolutely aghast if we found DNA. That would really be overwhelmingly surprising." ®

Related stories

We used to be afraid of comets, now it's their turn
Hubble snaps flashy Tempel-1
Astronomers spy proto-planetary hit-and-run

Next gen security for virtualised datacentres

More from The Register

next story
Our LOHAN spaceplane ballocket Kickstarter climbs through £8000
Through 25 per cent but more is needed: Get your UNIQUE rewards!
LOHAN tunes into ultra long range radio
And verily, Vultures shall speak status unto distant receivers
NASA to reformat Opportunity rover's memory from 125 million miles away
Interplanetary admins will back up data and get to work
SpaceX prototype rocket EXPLODES over Texas. 'Tricky' biz, says Elon Musk
No injuries or near injuries. Flight stayed in designated area
Galileo, Galileo! Galileo, Galileo! Galileo fit to go. Magnifico
I'm just a poor boy, nobody loves me. But at least I can find my way with ESA GPS by 2017
EOS, Lockheed to track space junk from Oz
WA facility gets laser-eyes out of the fog
LOHAN Kickstarter push breaks TWELVE THOUSAND POUNDS
That's right, folks, you've stumped up OVER 9,000 beer tokens - and counting
prev story

Whitepapers

5 things you didn’t know about cloud backup
IT departments are embracing cloud backup, but there’s a lot you need to know before choosing a service provider. Learn all the critical things you need to know.
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.
Backing up Big Data
Solving backup challenges and “protect everything from everywhere,” as we move into the era of big data management and the adoption of BYOD.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?