Deep Impact: Bang! Success!

By Phil Plait | July 4, 2005 12:11 pm

The Deep Impact impactor slammed into comet P/9 Tempel 1 right on the money last night! It was amazing. Imagine: a comet orbiting the Sun at 30 kilometers per second is hit by a probe moving at 10 km/sec, and images were taken by yet another instrument sweeping past the whole event.

We humans are pretty smart.

Here’s an animation of images taken from the impactor as it went in. Very cool.

Images are pouring in from everywhere: from the Deep Impact mission itself (run, do not walk, to see those images!), Hubble, XMM-Newton, the European Southern Observatory… it’s great. I was with a group last night, and we took some images using our 14″ telescope. Once I have them analyzed I’ll post them, but it’ll be later this week.

The science is pouring in as well. Water was detected by XMM-Newton (once again showing the antiscientists are dead wrong about comets). The plume will be analyzed by for days; the images of the nucleus are fascinating, showing flattened craters, which hint at the surface composition. We’ll be hearing about new ideas for weeks, and studies will go on for years.

Science rocks.

Congrats to the Deep Impact team!


Comments (29)

  1. I watched the coverage on net net as it was happening. I have one word for it.



  2. Scott Mooney

    Another win for the Home team!

    Take that, McCanney!

  3. Samara

    Now THIS is a fireworks display!
    Did the NASA folks time this display so it would be on the fourht?
    Just a thought…

  4. pretty smart? wait for the retaliation!! (just kidding too much war-of-the-worlds lately hehehe)

  5. Patrick

    Samara, I read that the date was just a coincidence, and my buddy at Ball aerospace confrims this, but I’m not so sure.

    It was really cool watching the feed come in last night…One of my best friends is a production engineer and this project consumed about the 3 years of his life. It was cool to get the skinny and be that close to the mission. His big contribution were the springs that detached the impactor, once that went fine, it was smooth sailing and all fun for him. what an amazing thing…

  6. Remember, for me the impact was on July 3 (and for Mountain time, too).

  7. bill

    this is old, but it looks like nasa is in real trouble now….

  8. Patrick

    “# The Bad Astronomer Says:
    July 4th, 2005 at 4:59 pm

    Remember, for me the impact was on July 3 (and for Mountain time, too).”

    Yea, true enough. impact was just before midnight for me. Then we stayed up and watched the press conference…the movie they showed was really neat.

    It was still really good timing.

  9. Mike

    Way to go NASA! I watched the coverage on NASA’s cable channel. Unfortunately Tempel I was below the horizon for me at the time, as it was for much of the US, but it was still exciting watching the impact footage coming in. Now if we could just get the media and the public to realize that the collision won’t destroy the comet nor knock it into the earth.

  10. one word:


  11. Ajith

    Truly an amazing achievement. Congrats to Rick Grammier and his team.

    Maybe NASA should also pay a few million dollars in damages to the Russian “astrologist”. :-))

  12. Michael von Müller

    “The science is pouring in as well. Water was detected by XMM-Newton (once again showing the antiscientists are dead wrong about comets).”

    Heh. They don’t seem to be taking it so well, though.

    “Physicist James McCanney joined the show next . . . there is no visible ice, water or snow on the comet nucleus, he said, suggesting that the “dirty snowball” model is wrong, as he has previously argued.”

  13. Michelle Rochon

    That was REALLY a blast! *Rimshot* I must say it was pretty amazing. It’s just too bad that astrologists and wackos feel the need to taint up that awesome event. Sigh.

  14. Dan

    This supposed person, a.k.a. Marina Bai (whom no one can seem to locate) is suiing NASA for damages to her “astology” readings since the impactor has obviously (sarcasm) changed the “orbit” of the comet, which apparently she also claims she and her parents could see naked eye, an amazing feat when considering it was listed as a 9.6 magnitude after the impactor hit.

    What really bugs me about this nonscense is that most of the astrology sites are of course supportive of this garbage, but specifically are hoping to get a lot of media attention from it.

    Other than completely ignoring this tripe (which I am not always in agreement with) is there anything you could or should do to help bury these morons Phil?

  15. Ian Regan

    Here’s a very disappointing review of the comet impact by Brian May, who is critical of the entire mission:

    Care to respond BA?

  16. Good lord. First of all, Hoagland now has a BLOG, so you can waste some perfectly good brain cells in your spare time. Second, here’s a great quote from the last Coast to Coast show, which I can’t believe I missed:

    “Hoagland suggested that early data from the Deep Impact mission is tilting towards Van Flandern’s theory of exploded planets. Rather than “dirty snowballs,” comets are made of the same materials as asteroids, which form during the explosion of planets, said Van Flandern, who believes that all planets of a certain mass eventually explode, just as stars do.”

    Doesn’t this sound like a Monty Python skit? Maybe if we just plunged the planet into a huge bucket of water – would that keep it from exploding?

  17. Funny that Hoagland and company are already claiming the results prove that comets are not dirty ice. I think it is funny they can come to this conclusion so quick since the latest I’d heard (granted that was early this morning) was still that the science team was analyzing the spectra and that the images were quite complex and would take some time. Meanwhile, Hoagland and company have apparently already cleaned up the data and have somehow proven there isn’t much water up there. Either that or they’re making less than honest statements.


  18. Jim

    As others have said, this was a cool thing. I watched the little Quicktime movie from NASA over and over. Too bad the clip stops about 3 seconds before impact! :-)

  19. um3k

    The impact was an hour or so after midnight for me (eastern time). I wanted to stay up and watch the webfeed live, but I was exhausted from swimming for several hours. :(

    On a side note, Deep Impact was on the front page (!!!) of my local newspaper on the 5th. Awesome!

  20. Irishman

    From BrianMay:
    > Hmmm … I wonder if it’s generally known that President Bush personally has to sign all the approved NASA missions.

    Since when? Where is the evidence of that? No, the President (Bush, or any other President) does not have to personally sign approval for all NASA missions. That’s what the NASA Administrator is for. That’s why there is an agency. Congress has to sign approval to the budget, which the President proposes but they are free to change. In broad strokes, the President has approval over NASA’s programs, but the details are in the hands of the agency.

    > The team certainly pulled off an amazingly accurate piece of targeting – but it’s striking how similar the problem they solved is to that of hitting an enemy satellite in times of a war.

    Only in the broadest strokes. Take a projectile, aim it at a moving target, and make contact. But if you look at the actual details, the two are as different as the difference with trying to shoot a duck in flight (with a slug, just for kicks, instead of birdshot). Taking six years to travel past other planets to get lined up in the correct orbit for a collision with a comet (or asteroid) is a much different undertaking than trying to lauch a counter missile on cue to track and catch an ICBM in less than 30 minutes.

    > One is tempted to wonder if the analysis of the shower of debris from the blast will truly (as is claimed in the press release) “solve the problem of how the Solar System was formed” …

    Only if you think in the most simplistic terms do you think this will “solve” the problem. What it will do is provide data about what comets are made of, which will contribute to knowledge of how they are formed. Because we believe comets were formed from the early material of the solar system, looking at the comets will tell us about that early material, and contribute data on the early solar system, which will help us understand how it formed. It is a long chain of evaluating data and combining it with other information, not merely getting an answer out of the blue.

    >… or if it will become more and more apparent that this was really pretty much all about an “IMPACT” on the 4th of July, and THAT was why the 300 million dollars became available….

    Gee, if that’s all it was, why are the Japanese hard on the trail of exactly the same type of mission, a cometary impact with Hyutake set for this September, which includes a sample return? Are the Japanese just looking at how to blow up ICBMs and getting a large impact on the Fourth of July? And did President Bush get personal approval over the Japanese mission?

    >I notice there is now a little back-tracking going on in the description of what happened …. they are now saying the comet “ran into” the copper projectile ! I had to laugh …

    And tell me, what is so funny about that? I assume he’s arguing that the impactor was the item under control and not the comet. However, the description is accurate. It’s like a pedestrian stepping into the street right in front of a moving bus. The bus runs into the pedestrian. Nevermind that the bus was committed to the path and couldn’t change direction or stop, and that the pedestrian was the one getting in the way, it’s still the bus that runs into the pedestrian. It’s called the English language. Deal with it. The impactor was placed into a path that moved in front of the comet, and the impactor was moving away from the comet but at a slower speed than the comet was moving. Ergo, the comet ran into the impactor from behind.

    For someone who claims “my background is almost entirely science, even more than music”, he does a poor job of proving it.

  21. Irishman

    Not Hyutake. Hayabusa.

  22. Irishman, you’re talking about this mission?

    Wow, I knew the Hayabusa was fast but I didn’t know it was THAT fast! 😉

    I kid because this is such amazing work and I burn with envy.

    Sincere congratulations to all involved.

  23. Nigel Depledge

    Surely that’s not THE Brian May…? Who, although having a science degree has not participated in active research for, well I don’t know how long. He seems to have been kinda busy doing the music thing from about 1971 to the present day.

    Brian, music IS your forte (forgive the pun). Science, it seems, is not.

    Deep Impact has returned more detailed images of a comet nucleus than any pictures I’ve seen before. Plus, the impact offered the surety (or, at least, a very good chance) of examining material from the interior of a comet in a sufficiently large and dense plume that good spectrographic data were obtainable for the first time. It also provided information about the mechanical structure of the comet nucleus. So there.

  24. Samara

    “Doesn’t this sound like a Monty Python skit? Maybe if we just plunged the planet into a huge bucket of water – would that keep it from exploding?”

    I can just imagine the animation for that…:-)

    the theory though…sheesh no wonder American children are so illiterate in science. Not only do we have the creationists (cretinists) bleating about how we’re all going to hell for “believing” in evolution, we also have crackpot scientists trying to cram their ridiculous theories down our throats

  25. Kurt

    I would just like to say that I think this is a great first step for humanity in really understanding how our solar system and ultimately the universe formed. I would love to see missions of this nature come from NASA in the future and hopefully sometime in the near future a manned mission to an asteroid or comet to get “hands-on” research of one of these beasts. To all the NASA scientists and anybody involved in this mission, congratulations!!

    Kurt Klunder

  26. Irishman

    Just a comet – er, comment. The Hayabusa (MUSES-C) mission of the Japanese, not only is it a cool comet sample return mission, but it’s not even primarily a science mission – it’s a technology demonstrator. Their intent is that if it goes well to start a program building lots of these. Yes, multiple sample return missions, low cost.

  27. CR

    That’s one thing I’ve noticed about the Japanese: when they decide they can do something, they actually go out and DO IT! Granted, that doesn’t always yield the best things, but when it comes to tech/science stuff, I can’t fault them for trying. I’m glad someone is willing to actually find out if something can be done, and then goes ahead and does it.
    Maybe the more success other countries have with their space programs, the more America will be willing to try more things with its own.


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