NASA plans Valentine's date with a comet

Jan 19, 2011
Artist's rendering of Spacecraft Startdust

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.

The Stardust-NExT spacecraft will be rapidly snapping pictures of the as they pass at a mere distance of 200 kilometers (about 124 miles).

Space experts are curious to see how a trip around the Sun has affected the surface of the Tempel 1, which is about six kilometers (3.7 miles) wide and travels on an orbit that brings it as close to the Sun as Mars and as far away as Jupiter.

Tempel 1 was last glimpsed in 2005 by NASA's mission as the was shooting toward the Sun on its five-year orbit between Mars and Jupiter.

Back then the encounter was akin to, say, a boy shoving a girl on the playground to gauge her reaction.

Deep Impact pummeled the comet with a special impactor spacecraft and the material that came out was a surprise to scientists: a cloud of fine powdery material emerged, not the water, ice and dirt that was expected.

Deep Impact also found evidence of ice on the surface of the comet, not just inside it.

Now space experts want to see how the comet has changed after its tour around the scorching Sun.

"Every day we are getting closer and closer and more and more excited about answering some fundamental questions about comets," said Joe Veverka, Stardust-NExT principal investigator at Cornell University.

"Going back for another look at Tempel 1 will provide new insights on how comets work and how they were put together four-and-a-half billion years ago."

The February 14 meetup has been a long time coming for Stardust-NExT, or New Exploration of Tempel, NASA said.

"As of today, the spacecraft is approximately 15.3 million miles away from its encounter," the US space agency said in a statement.

"Since 2007, Stardust-NExT executed eight flight path correction maneuvers, logged four circuits around the sun and used one Earth gravity assist to meet up with Tempel 1.

"Another three maneuvers are planned to refine the spacecraft's path to the comet."

The rendez-vous will occur 209 million miles (336 million kilometers) away from Earth. Initial raw images from the flyby are expected to be in NASA's hands by early February 15.

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

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

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 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 ...

Deep Impact correction maneuver successful

May 16, 2005

Fifty-nine days before going head-to-head with comet Tempel 1, NASA's Deep Impact spacecraft successfully executed the second trajectory correction maneuver of the mission. The burn further refined the spacecraft's trajectory, or ...

NASA Announces Another Comet Mission

Oct 31, 2006

NASA announced today that it has accepted the University of Maryland proposal to send the Deep Impact spacecraft on an extended mission to get a close-up look at Comet Boethin.

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