Be Vewy Quiet! I’m Hunting Comets! Huhuhuhuhuhuh

By Phil Plait | April 27, 2005 4:43 pm

NASA’s Deep Impact probe (yes, it was named well before the movie) is on its way to a very close encounter with Comet Tempel 1. It will pass by the comet this summer, taking close-up pictures, and will also release a chunk of copper that will smack into the comet (hence the name). This will excavate a pretty sizable crater, allowing scientists to peer inside a comet, and figure out what lies beneath. Well, really, what it’ll do is blast out junk from the comet, and the probe will then analyze the stuff ejected. But they do expect to get images of the crater, too.

Deep Impact is close enough now that it got its first image of the comet. Here it is:

That may not look like much, but the image was taken when DI was still 40 million miles from the comet! It’ll cover that distance in about 70 days, for a July 4th impact (scientists swear that’s a coincidental date).

When that chunk o’ copper hits the comet, it’ll dig a pretty big crater. How big? No one knows. So NASA decided to sponsor a contest: guess the size of the crater, and win a custom-made plaque from Ball Aerospace (the company that built DI). You can enter the contest here. One caveat: the answer must be in meters. They might have done it in Imperial units, but you know what they say: give someone 2.54 centimeters and they’ll take 1.609 kilometers!


Comments (15)

  1. haran

    There was a news item (Nature 434: page 685) in the April 7th issue of Nature by Rex Dalton reporting that Deep Impact’s main telescope has focussing problems which may affect the quality of images.
    I hope the problem is fixed, otherwise the size of the crater may remain a guess

  2. monolitfoo

    This is so awsome. Two of my favorite things coincidental. The 4th and deep space exploration. Am I wrong or is Deep Impact really two independant spacecraft that were only physically fixed to each other in the launch vehicle?

  3. Nigel Depledge

    Wow! That should give the probe some fantastic pictures.
    But, Phil, what do you mean by “English” units? I live in England, and we use metres and centimetres all the time (but not exclusively – we buy fuel for our cars in litres, but measure the distances we drive in miles). Inches, feet, yards, furlongs and miles belong to the Imperial system of units. Presumably, the system no longer bears this name in the US (can’t imagine why …. :-) ).

  4. motz

    give someone an inch and they’ll take a mile…

    or something like that….

  5. Hmmm, yes, I mean Imperial. Had a brain cloud there for a moment. I’ll fix it.

  6. monolithfoo

    Funny. An astronomer uses ‘cloud’ for somthing bad. :) Is this a common inside joke?

  7. No, it’s from “Joe Versus the Volcano”.

  8. monolithfoo

    oh. btw I’ve been having trouble posting. Just fyi. Or is it something I should change? Once I got the spam notification… don’t know much about that email provider, but I can change it easily enough.

  9. Amazing. A man-made object with make direct contact with a comet untouched by our atmosphere. If this was a B-Movie, this would mean *trouble*!

  10. Rodney

    If this was “Plan 9” we’d be in BIG trouble.

    But I suspect it’s McCanney that’ll be sweating, once contact is made.

  11. Irishman

    “Imperial”, i.e. from the British Empire, ergo English.

    What language do we speak in the U.S.? English. Sure, it’s a variant from the “mother tongue”, but it’s still English. The unit system devised is also English.

    Call it English, call it Imperial, call it U.S. Customary – it all means the same thing.

  12. Just stumbled upon your blog whilst doing a search on the weeb for this new planet thingy. Awesome!!

    Why is the U.S. the only country not working off the metric system anyway?

    I was a Physics major at the University of Waterloo (Ontario, Canada) and was probably one of the few people to get your little conversion joke there (like my (subtle) favourite, “G, I wonder what it’ll take for those two people to get together?”) – yes, I’m a loser.

  13. Nigel Depledge

    “Imperial�, i.e. from the British Empire, ergo English.

    Just don’t say that in Glasgow or Belfast !!

  14. Irishman

    The Boutros Says:
    “Why is the U.S. the only country not working off the metric system anyway?”


    Actually, the last official count I heard was three countries, but the other two were insignificant little blips on the map. *

    * Amerocentrism running rampant again. 😉


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