Skip to comments.Spacecraft launched on mission to smash comet
Posted on 01/12/2005 7:52:25 PM PST by bayourod
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. A NASA spacecraft with a Hollywood name Deep Impact blasted off today on a mission to smash a hole in a comet and give scientists a glimpse of the frozen primordial ingredients of the solar system.
With a launch window only one second long, Deep Impact rocketed away at the designated moment on a six-month, 268-million-mile journey to Comet Tempel 1. It will be a one-way trip that NASA hopes will reach a cataclysmic end on the Fourth of July.
"We are on our way," an excited Michael A'Hearn of the University of Maryland, the mission's chief scientist, said. Minutes later, the spacecraft shot out of Earth's orbit and onto its collision course.
"We'll be there July Fourth," said NASA launch director Omar Baez.
It was not until later in the afternoon much later than expected that scientists learned that Deep Impact's energy-producing solar panel had deployed properly. Although the spacecraft appeared to be healthy, it placed itself in a protective "sleep" mode because of an unknown problem, and flight controllers were reviewing strange sensor data, NASA said. The problem was not believed to be critical.
Scientists are counting on Deep Impact to carve out a crater in Comet Tempel 1 that could swallow the Roman Coliseum. It will be humans' first look into the heart of a comet, a celestial snowball still containing the original building blocks of the sun and the planets.
Because of the relative speed of the two objects at the moment of impact 23,000 mph no explosives are needed for the job. The force of the smashup will be equivalent to 4 1/2 tons of TNT, creating a flash that just might be visible in the dark sky by the naked eye in one spectacular Fourth of July fireworks display.
Nothing like this has ever been attempted before.
Little is known about Comet Tempel 1, other than that it is an icy, rocky body about nine miles long and three miles wide. Scientists do not even know whether the crust will be as hard as concrete or as flimsy as corn flakes.
"One of the scary things is that we won't actually know the shape and what it looks like until after we do the encounter," said Jay Melosh, a planetary geologist at the University of Arizona.
The comet will be more than 80 million miles from Earth when the collision takes place. The resulting crater is expected to be anywhere from two to 14 stories deep, and perhaps 300 feet in diameter.
A jagged, cratered comet like the one headed for Earth in the 1998 movie Deep Impact would be difficult if not impossible to hit because of all the shadows, Melosh said. Comet Tempel 1 is believed to be smoother and easier to strike, unlike that "Hollywood nightmare."
The scientists came up with the Deep Impact name independently of the movie studio, around the same time, neither knowing the other was choosing it, even though some members of NASA's Deep Impact team were consultants on the picture.
Deep Impact is carrying the most powerful telescope ever sent into deep space. It will remain with the mother ship when the impactor springs free the day before the comet strike, and will observe the event from a safe 300 miles away.
NASA space telescopes like the Hubble will also watch the collision, along with ground observatories and amateur astronomers.
The entire mission costs $330 million, all the way through the grand finale.
Sounds like a bargain for $330 million. Isn't that less than the cost of Clinton's trips to Africa and China in his second term?
NASA spacecraft ment to crash into comet has cause the redirection of said comet directly to earth!!! Reports indicate that the comet may strike the Moon, which would not be much better since it would cause it's immnenet destrucion. Thank you again NASA, like two Mars rovers wasn't enough. HEHE.
Practice for a potential cosmic billiard game.
A reminder that the Huygens is due to land on titan in about 30 hours.
Wonder what they'll think if the impactor just goes right through the comet?
Is there a book somewhere regarding the success of this mission?
That's not possible. Though they don't know a lot about the comet, they have a rough idea of it's mass and a rougher idea of it's density due to it's orbital motions. The density of comets like this is just a little bit higher than that of frozen water, which is why they call them "dirty snowballs". At any rate, there WILL be an impact, that is for certain.
I was just thinking the same thought. I was also thinking that space-base impactors should be a military weapon. Space is the ultimate high ground and I would love to see jihadists blown up from tungsten rods shot down from the heavens.
It would do the same to jihadists if they are moving as fast as the comet.
Not that I know of.
Kofi says the comet is a UN protected historic landmark, and calls on the US to abandon the mission.
"That's private property." Colonel Bat Guano - Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb.
So on July 5, if it works, we'll find out that we have just been saved. If it misses........
It won't miss, not if we all really really believe...
Is this timed so that everyone in the US will have a view on the evening of July the 4th or is it in the morning ?
If NASA screwed up the miles and km then it could happen in the middle of the daytime. The only viewers then will be on the other side of the planet!
Yes. The next stage for NASA is to make sure there are no clouds over America that night.
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