|Volume: 03, Issue: 01||01/12/2005|
Deep Impact Heads for Comet CollisionThe Deep Impact spacecraft has begun its mission to accomplish the incredible: blast a hole in Comet Tempel 1 to see what it's made of. The spacecraft lifted off aboard a Boeing Delta II rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Jan. 12, 2005.
The Deep Impact mission is designed for a six-month, one-way, 268 million mile voyage. Deep Impact will deploy a probe that will essentially be "run over" by the nucleus of comet Tempel 1 at approximately 23,000 mph.
"From central Florida to the surface of a comet in six months is almost instant gratification from a deep space mission viewpoint," said Rick Grammier, Deep Impact project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). "It is going to be an exciting mission, and we can all witness its culmination together as Deep Impact provides the planet with its first man-made celestial fireworks on our nation's birthday, July 4."
The fireworks will be courtesy of a 39-by-39 inch copper-fortified probe. It is designed to obliterate itself as it excavates a crater possibly large enough to swallow the Roman Coliseum. Before, during, and after the demise of this 820-pound impactor, a nearby spacecraft will be watching the 3.7 mile wide comet nucleus, collecting pictures and data of the event.
"We will be capturing the whole thing on the most powerful camera to fly in deep space," said University of Maryland astronomy professor Dr. Michael A'Hearn, Deep Impact's principal investigator. "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."
Comets are thought to have existed since the early days of our Solar System. Scientists suspect that frozen within these celestial nomads are the same chemical building blocks that lead to the formation of water -- and life -- here on Earth.
Imagery and other data from the Deep Impact cameras will be sent back to Earth through the antennas of the Deep Space Network. But they will not be the only eyes on the prize. NASA's Chandra, Hubble, and Spitzer space telescopes will be observing from near-Earth space. Hundreds of miles below, professional and amateur astronomers on Earth will also be able to observe the material flying from the comet's newly formed crater.
Deep Impact will provide a glimpse beneath the surface of a comet, where material and debris from the solar system's formation remain relatively unchanged. Mission scientists are confident the project will answer basic questions about the formation of the solar system by offering a better look at the nature and composition of the celestial travelers we call comets.
"Understanding conditions that lead to the formation of planets is a goal of NASA's mission of exploration," said Andy Dantzler, acting director of the Solar System division at NASA Headquarters, Washington. "Deep Impact is a bold, innovative, and exciting mission that will attempt something never done before to try to uncover clues about our own origins."
Principal Investigator A'Hearn leads the mission from the University of Maryland, College Park. JPL manages the Deep Impact project for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters. Deep Impact is a mission in NASA's Discovery Program of moderately priced solar system exploration missions.
To learn more about Deep Impact, visit http://www.nasa.gov/deepimpact .
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