Feeds

NASA's Deep Impact mislays comet

Boethin goes awol

Security for virtualized datacentres

NASA has cancelled a scheduled liaison between its Deep Impact spacecraft and Comet 85P/Boethin because the latter has disappeared without trace, New Scientist reports.

Deep Impact completed its principal mission back in 2005, when it fired a 360kg probe into Comet Tempel-1 in an attempt to deduce the body's composition.

It then set off for a late 2008 hook-up with Boethin, a body which has been spied only twice, "first when it was discovered during a close approach to the Sun in 1975, and again during a second close passage in 1986".

It was supposed to put in an appearance in 1997 on another approach to the Sun, but may have escaped detection from Earth due to it being behind the star's glare. In October, astonomers deployed various telescopes including the Very Large Telescope array in Chile, and that at Hawaii's Subaru observatory to track it down, without sucess.

Quite what has happened to Boethin remains a mystery. While it may have broken up during its 1997 approach, Michael A'Hearn of the University of Maryland in Baltimore, chief scientist for the Deep Impact mission, said such a heat-provoked disintegration was unlikely since it "never comes closer to the Sun than just beyond Earth's orbit".

He told New Scientist: "Disappearing in the sense of breaking up and dissipating is actually very rare. If it disappeared, then that is fascinating in itself - only one other comet has done that in recent memory."

The previous self-destructing comet in question was Linear-S4, which fell apart and disappeared back in 1990.

A'Hearn says it's more likely that Boethin "broke into a few large chunks that are still intact but have drifted too far from the original comet's orbit to have been spotted in searches to date". More plausible still is that since Boethin has only been seen twice, scientists did not correctly predict its trajectory and the telescopes have been looking in the wrong place.

Whatever the case, NASA will now send Deep Impact off for a meeting with Comet Hartley 2, around the same size as Boethin at 1.6km, although more active. The planned encounter will take place in 2010. ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

More from The Register

next story
SECRET U.S. 'SPACE WARPLANE' set to return from SPY MISSION
Robot minishuttle X-37B returns after almost 2 years in orbit
LOHAN crash lands on CNN
Overflies Die Welt en route to lively US news vid
'Utter killjoy Reg hacks have NEVER BEEN LAID', writes a fan
'Shuddit, smarty pants!' Some readers reacted badly to our last Doctor Who review ...
Experts brand LOHAN's squeaky-clean box
Phytosanitary treatment renders Vulture 2 crate fit for export
Carry On Cosmonaut: Willful Child is a poor taste Star Trek parody
Cringeworthy, crude and crass jokes abound in Steven Erikson’s sci-fi debut
White LED lies: It's great, but Nobel physics prize-winning great?
How artificial lighting could offer an artificial promise
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Win a year’s supply of chocolate
There is no techie angle to this competition so we're not going to pretend there is, but everyone loves chocolate so who cares.
Why cloud backup?
Combining the latest advancements in disk-based backup with secure, integrated, cloud technologies offer organizations fast and assured recovery of their critical enterprise data.
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?
Saudi Petroleum chooses Tegile storage solution
A storage solution that addresses company growth and performance for business-critical applications of caseware archive and search along with other key operational systems.