NASA comet hunter spots its Valentine

Jan 27, 2011 By DC Agle
The first image of comet Tempel 1 taken by NASA's Stardust spacecraft is a composite made from observations on Jan. 18 and 19, 2011. On Valentine's Day (Feb. 14 in U.S. time zones), Stardust will fly within about 200 kilometers (124 miles) of the comet's nucleus. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

(PhysOrg.com) -- NASA's Stardust spacecraft has downlinked its first images of comet Tempel 1, the target of a flyby planned for Valentine's Day, Feb. 14. The images were taken on Jan. 18 and 19 from a distance of 26.3 million kilometers (16.3 million miles), and 25.4 million kilometers (15.8 million miles) respectively. On Feb. 14, Stardust will fly within about 200 kilometers (124 miles) of the comet's nucleus.

"This is the first of many images to come of ," said Joe Veverka, principal investigator of NASA's Stardust-NExT mission from Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y. "Encountering something as small and fast as a in the vastness of space is always a challenge, but we are very pleased with how things are setting up for our Valentine's Day ."

The composite image is a combination of several images taken by Stardust's navigation camera. Future images will be used to help mission navigators refine Stardust's trajectory, or flight path, as it closes the distance between comet and at a rate of about 950,000 kilometers (590,000 miles) a day. On the night of encounter, the navigation camera will be used to acquire 72 high-resolution images of the comet's surface features. Stardust-NExT mission scientists will use these images to see how surface features on comet Tempel 1 have changed over the past five-and-a-half years. (Tempel 1 had previously been visited and imaged in July of 2005 by NASA's Deep Impact mission).

Launched on Feb. 7, 1999, Stardust became the first spacecraft in history to collect samples from a comet (comet Wild 2), and return them to Earth for study. While its sample return capsule parachuted to Earth in January 2006, mission controllers were placing the still-viable spacecraft on a path that would allow NASA the opportunity to re-use the already-proven flight system if a target of opportunity presented itself. In January 2007, NASA re-christened the mission "Stardust-NExT" (New Exploration of Tempel), and the Stardust team began a four-and-a-half year journey for the spacecraft to comet Tempel 1. This will be the second exploration of Tempel 1 by a spacecraft (Deep Impact).

Along with the high-resolution images of the comet's surface, Stardust-NExT will also measure the composition, size distribution and flux of dust emitted into the coma, and provide important new information on how Jupiter-family comets evolve and how they formed 4.6 billion years ago.

Stardust-NExT is a low-cost mission that will expand the investigation of comet Tempel 1 initiated by NASA's Deep Impact spacecraft. JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages Stardust-NExT for the NASA Science Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C. Joe Veverka of Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., is the mission's principal investigator. Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, built the spacecraft and manages day-to-day mission operations.

Explore further: MAVEN Mars spacecraft to begin orbit of Red Planet

More information: For more information about Stardust-NExT, please visit: stardustnext.jpl.nasa.gov .

Related Stories

NASA spacecraft burns for another comet flyby

Nov 23, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- Eighty-six days out from its appointment with a comet, NASA's Stardust spacecraft fired its thrusters to help refine its flight path. The Stardust-NExT mission will fly past comet Tempel 1 ...

NASA's Stardust Burns for Comet, Less Than a Year Away

Feb 18, 2010

Just three days shy of one year before its planned flyby of comet Tempel 1, NASA's Stardust spacecraft has successfully performed a maneuver to adjust the time of its encounter by eight hours and 20 minutes. ...

NASA plans Valentine's date with a comet

Jan 19, 2011

Like two strangers in the night, a US spacecraft and a speeding comet will dash by one another on Valentine's Day, NASA said Wednesday, and skywatchers are eager to see what happens.

NASA Stardust Capsule To Go On Display At Smithsonian

Sep 26, 2008

(PhysOrg.com) -- Having returned the world's first particles from a comet, NASA's Stardust sample return capsule will join the collection of flight icons in the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum ...

NASA spacecraft on final approach toward comet

Nov 02, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- The EPOXI mission spacecraft has refined its path toward a Nov. 4 flyby of comet Hartley 2, successfully performing its final maneuver today at 8 a.m. PDT (11 a.m. EDT). The spacecraft burned ...

Recommended for you

Internet moguls Musk, Bezos shake up US space race

Sep 20, 2014

The space race to end America's reliance on Russia escalated this week with a multibillion dollar NASA award for SpaceX's Elon Musk and an unexpected joint venture for Blue Origin's Jeff Bezos.

User comments : 0