Feeds

NASA craft to woo comet on Valentine's Day

Romantic final encounter for Stardust-NExT

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

NASA's venerable Stardust spacecraft will on Valentine's Day burn its remaining fuel to approch and photograph comet Tempel 1, marking the end of a 12-year, 3.7 billion-mile odyssey.

At 16:37 GMT, Stardust will pass within 124 miles of the comet, grabbing 72 "high-resolution images during the encounter", while attempting to "measure the composition, distribution, and flux of dust emitted into the coma, or material surrounding the comet's nucleus".

NASA hopes that the craft, now dubbed Stardust-NExT ("New Exploration of Tempel"), may get a picture of the crater caused by the Deep Impact mission impactor which in 2005 slammed into Tempel 1.

Joe Veverka, Stardust-NExT principal investigator, said: "Every day we are getting closer and closer and more and more excited about answering some fundamental questions about comets.

"Going back for another look at Tempel 1 will provide new insights on how comets work and how they were put together four-and-a-half billion years ago."

Veverka has also hinted that Stardust could carry out some vital preliminary reconaissance work for future Bruce Willises. An examination of the Deep Impact crater "will tell us the mechanical properties of the subsurface of the comet,” he suggested, adding: “In other words, how does the comet respond to impacts? And that’s one of the fundamental things that you’d need to know if you were trying to blow up a comet or push it out of the way.”

Artist's impression of Stardust. Image: NASALaunched in February 1999, Stardust's primary mission was to "collect dust and carbon-based samples during its closest encounter with Comet Wild 2" in January 2004.

These samples, plus interstellar dust, returned to Earth in January 2006 aboard a capsule which parachuted to earth in Utah.

Following this success, NASA placed Stardust on a course which could "potentially reuse the flight system if a target of opportunity presented itself".

In 2007, the renamed Stardust-NExT began a four-year pursuit of Tempel 1.

Tim Larson, Stardust-NExT project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said: "You could say our spacecraft is a seasoned veteran of cometary campaigns.

"It's been half-way to Jupiter, executed picture-perfect flybys of an asteroid* and a comet, collected cometary material for return to Earth, then headed back out into the void again, where we asked it to go head-to-head with a second comet nucleus."

As of yesterday, the spacecraft was roughly 15.3 million miles from its romantic encounter. When it does catch up with Tempel 1, it'll be 209 million miles from Earth, and "almost on the exact opposite side of the solar system".

NASA says Stardust-NExT is just about out of fuel, and will exhaust what's left during the flyby and "planned post-encounter imaging". The first beamed images of Tempel 1 should arrive at Earth on the morning of 15 February, the agency notes. ®

Bootnote

* Asteroid Annefrank, which Stardust skimmed past in 2002 as a rehearsal for its meeting with Wild 2.

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

More from The Register

next story
Bond villains lament as Wicked Lasers withdraw death ray
Want to arm that shark? Better get in there quick
Renewable energy 'simply WON'T WORK': Top Google engineers
Windmills, solar, tidal - all a 'false hope', say Stanford PhDs
Antarctic ice THICKER than first feared – penguin-bot boffins
Robo-sub scans freezing waters, rocks warming models
SEX BEAST SEALS may be egging each other on to ATTACK PENGUINS
Boffin: 'I think the behaviour is increasing in frequency'
Reuse the Force, Luke: SpaceX's Elon Musk reveals X-WING designs
And a floating carrier for recyclable rockets
The next big thing in medical science: POO TRANSPLANTS
Your brother's gonna die, kid, unless we can give him your, well ...
NASA launches new climate model at SC14
75 days of supercomputing later ...
Britain's HUMAN DNA-strewing Moon mission rakes in £200k
3 days, and Kickstarter moves lander 37% nearer takeoff
Your PHONE is slowly KILLING YOU
Doctors find new Digitillnesses - 'text neck' and 'telepressure'
prev story

Whitepapers

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.
Getting started with customer-focused identity management
Learn why identity is a fundamental requirement to digital growth, and how without it there is no way to identify and engage customers in a meaningful way.
Driving business with continuous operational intelligence
Introducing an innovative approach offered by ExtraHop for producing continuous operational intelligence.
5 critical considerations for enterprise cloud backup
Key considerations when evaluating cloud backup solutions to ensure adequate protection security and availability of 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?