NASA comet probe "Impactor" successfully collided with Comet Tempel 1 at 1:52 a.m. EDT, creating the most spectaculer 4th of July fireworks display in American history. Deep Impact is the eighth mission in NASA’s Discovery Program, it aims to learn what a comet is made of and how it is put together.
The Flyby spacecraft released the Impactor probe into the path of Comet Tempel 1 causing a collision at approximately 37,000 kph (23,000 mph). The "impactor", a 1-by-1-meter (39-by-39 inches) copper-fortified probe, travelled 431 million kilometers (268 million miles) to reach its destination. The one way voyage took six months.
Telescopes around the world along with instruments onboard "flyby" the mothership are observing the event. 100 plus observatories are co-ordinated in the largest operation of its kind. Images recorded onboard the impactor as it hurtled towards the comet revealed huge craters. Scientists will be able to compare these craters with the artificial one to learn more about Tempel 1. On Earth the first images were seen by telescopes in Hawaii, the best visible point of observation lasting for 24 hours. A gradual brightening of the comet image was observed with activity persisting after the impact. The crater is currently estimated to be around 100 meteres in diameter.
Comet Origins and Composition
Comet 9P/Tempel 1 was discovered on April 3, 1867 by Ernst Wilhelm Leberecht Tempel of Marseilles France while visually searching for comets. It is 9 miles across and 83 million miles away, orbiting the Sun between Mars and Jupiter in the asteroid belt with an orbital period of 5.5 years. The comet’s orbit will have been moved by a few hundred meters in 20 years time.
The material composition of the comet will tell us more about the origins of the solar system. Scientists believe comets are involved in the creation of planetary systems. Primitive materials from 4.6 billion years ago are preserved within comets including water, carbon dioxide and methane, the key components for life. The analysis of a cloud of rock and dust generated by the impact has begun. It will provide a glimpse beneath the surface of the comet, where material and debris from the solar system’s formation remain relatively unchanged. Energy lost as heat during the impact will be measured to determine the composition and strength of the comet. XMM-Newton has already detected water on Tempel 1.
Deep Impact Resources
- Deep Impact Amateur Observers’ Program has astronomy guides, star charts and galleries.
- Deep Impact at ESO provides news and background information about the mission.
- NASA – Deep Impact main site with links to Media Resources, Multimedia, Mission Overview, Spacecraft and Instruments, the Team and Timeline. Images, videos, feature presentations, news and full mission coverage.
- Jet Propulsion Laboratory Deep Impact page also provides mission info and media resources.
- NASA Main Missions Page for all space programs.
Images and animations
- Deep Impact at Kitt Peak has animations of live images taken before and after impact, using the Kitt Peak Visitor Center’s 20in Ritchey-Chretien telescope.
- Deep Impact Camera archives of photography and live images sequenced into movies.
- Deep Impact Comet Crash Produces Great Big Comet Flash a piece written by Emily Lakdawalla with a video assembled from 36 images taken by the impactor’s camera, and twelve taken by the flyby spacecraft’s camera.
- First XMM-Newton images of impact showing Comet 9P/Tempel 1 taken by the Optical Monitor on ESA’s XMM-Newton observatory, from two minutes before impact and until seven minutes after impact.
- NASA – Deep Impact Viewer provides near real-time mission images and archive. There’s an interactive multimedia feature outlining the project.
- Photo – heic0509: Hubble captures Deep Impact’s collision with a comet. This sequence of images shows the comet before and after the impact.
- Space News Blog – Deep Impact news commentary, pictures and videos.
- XMM-Newton detects water on Tempel 1 ultraviolet images showing the emissions of hydroxyl ions, the direct decay product of water.
World News Reports
- BBC : Nasa probe strikes Comet Tempel 1 recent news reports and animated mission guides.
- Big Blog Space Science news feeds monitor.
- Deep Impact in the News is a list of links to full articles written about Deep Impact.
- Reuters: NASA probe collides with comet in brilliant blast report, images and mission control video taken during confirmation of impact.
- WIKInews : NASA’s Deep Impact probe strikes comet successfully provides collaborative input for news and events surrounding the Deep Impact mission.
Information about comets
Related space exploration story
The image below shows the initial ejecta that resulted when NASA’s Deep Impact probe collided with comet Tempel 1 at 10:52 p.m. Pacific time, July 3 (1:52 a.m. Eastern time, July 4). It was taken by the spacecraft’s high-resolution camera 13 seconds after impact. The image has been digitally processed to better show the comet’s nucleus.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UMD