The Alan Sondheim Mail Archive


---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Thu, 09 Jun 2005 12:27:09 -0700
From: NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory <info@jpl.nasa.gov>
To: "sondheim@panix.com" <sondheim@panix.com>
Subject: NASA Announces Spectacular Day of the Comet


MEDIA RELATIONS OFFICE
JET PROPULSION LABORATORY
CALIFORNIA INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY
NATIONAL AERONAUTICS AND SPACE ADMINISTRATION
PASADENA, CALIF. 91109 TELEPHONE (818) 354-5011
http://www.jpl.nasa.gov

Dolores Beasley (202) 358-1753
NASA Headquarters, Washington

D.C. Agle (818) 393-9011
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

News Release: 2005-098				           			June 9, 2005

NASA Announces Spectacular Day of the Comet

After a voyage of 173 days and 431 million kilometers (268 million miles), NASA's Deep
Impact spacecraft will get up-close and personal with comet Tempel 1 on July 4 (EDT).

The first of its kind, hyper-speed impact between space-borne iceberg and copper-fortified
probe is scheduled for approximately 1:52 a.m. EDT on Independence Day (10:52 p.m. PDT
on July 3). The potentially spectacular collision will be observed by the Deep Impact
spacecraft, and ground and space-based observatories.

"We are really threading the needle with this one," said Rick Grammier, Deep Impact project
manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. "In our quest of a great
scientific payoff, we are attempting something never done before at speeds and distances
that are truly out of this world."

During the early morning hours of July 3 (EDT), the Deep Impact spacecraft will deploy a 1-
meter-wide (39-inch-wide) impactor into the path of the comet, which is about half the size
of Manhattan Island, N.Y. Over the next 22 hours, Deep Impact navigators and mission
members located more than 133 million kilometers (83 million miles) away at JPL, will steer
both spacecraft and impactor toward the comet. The impactor will head into the comet and
the flyby craft will pass approximately 500 kilometers (310 miles) below.

Tempel 1 is hurtling through space at approximately 37,100 kilometers per hour (23,000
miles per hour or 6.3 miles per second).  At that speed you could travel from New York to
Los Angeles in less than 6.5 minutes. Two hours before impact, when mission events will be
happening so fast and so far away, the impactor will kick into autonomous navigation mode.
It must perform its own navigational solutions and thruster firings to make contact with the
comet.

"The autonav is like having a little astronaut on board," Grammier said. "It has to navigate
and fire thrusters three times to steer the wine cask-sized impactor into the mountain-sized
comet nucleus closing at 23,000 miles per hour."

The crater produced by the impact could range in size from a large house up to a football
stadium, and from two to 14 stories deep. Ice and dust debris will be ejected from the crater,
revealing the material beneath. The flyby spacecraft has approximately 13 minutes to take
images and spectra of the collision and its result before it must endure a potential blizzard of
particles from the nucleus of the comet.

"The last 24 hours of the impactor's life should provide the most spectacular data in the
history of cometary science," said Deep Impact Principal Investigator Dr. Michael A'Hearn of
the University of Maryland, College Park. "With the information we receive after the impact,
it will be a whole new ballgame. We know so little about the structure of cometary nuclei that
almost every moment we expect to learn something new."

The Deep Impact spacecraft has four data collectors to observe the effects of the collision.
A camera and infrared spectrometer, which comprise the High Resolution Instrument, are
carried on the flyby spacecraft, along with a Medium Resolution Instrument. A duplicate of
the Medium Resolution Instrument on the impactor will record the vehicle's final moments
before it is run over by Tempel 1.

"In the world of science, this is the astronomical equivalent of a 767 airliner running into a
mosquito," said Dr. Don Yeomans, a Deep Impact mission scientist at JPL. "The impact
simply will not appreciably modify the comet's orbital path. Comet Tempel 1 poses no threat
to the Earth now or in the foreseeable future."

Deep Impact will provide a glimpse beneath the surface of a comet, where material from the
solar system's formation remains relatively unchanged. Mission scientists expect the project
will answer basic questions about the formation of the solar system, by offering a better look
at the nature and composition of the frozen celestial travelers we call comets.

The University of Maryland is responsible for overall Deep Impact mission management,
and project management is handled by JPL. The spacecraft was built for NASA by Ball
Aerospace & Technologies Corporation, Boulder, Colo.

For more information about Deep Impact on the Internet, visit:
http://www.nasa.gov/deepimpact .

For information about NASA and agency programs on the Internet, visit:
http://www.nasa.gov/home/index.html .

-end-





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