Stardust Spacecraft Sends Home Close-Ups of a Comet

By Eliza Strickland | February 15, 2011 6:15 pm

Well, NASA’s Valentine’s date seems to have gone off without a hitch. Last night the Stardust-NExT probe passed within 110 miles of the comet Tempel 1, and snapped plenty of pictures during its rendezvous. The mission’s main objective was to record the results of an experiment conducted by another spacecraft, Deep Impact, which hurled an impactor at Tempel 1 back in 2005. Researchers hoped Stardust would catch a glimpse of the man-made crater.

As Phil Plait writes:

The whole point here was to see the impact crater from 2005, and Stardust was able to do that. It’s difficult to see in these images here, but Pete Schultz, an impact specialist with the mission, said the crater is about 150 meters across and has a central peak, indicating material fell back to the comet. The crater wasn’t as obvious as expected, but is about the right size given the impactor speed, mass, and angle of impact.

Head over to Bad Astronomy for more details, and for a nice animation of the flyby.

Related Content:
80beats: NASA’s Stardust Prepares a Valentine’s Day Pass of Comet Tempel 1
80beats: NASA Probe Has a Valentine’s Day Date With a Comet
Bad Astronomy: A Comet Creates Its Own Snowstorm!
Bad Astronomy: Ten Things You Don’t Know About Comets
DISCOVER: 11 Space Missions That Will Make Headlines in 2011 (photo gallery)

Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell

  • nick

    For a second, I saw “material fell back to the comet” and thought to myself, “No way! They shoot material off like nobody’s business.” Then I remembered that NASA is probably smart enough to have scheduled the impact for when the comet wasn’t near the sun and spewing vapors into space. Duh.


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