Monday, February 14, 2011

Stardust-NExT and Comet 9P/Tempel

In the next few hours, precisely on February 14 at 20:48 PST (February 15 at 04:48 UTC), the Stardust spacecraft will have a flyby with the comet 9P/Tempel (also known as comet Tempel 1).

Stardust is a robotic space probe launched by NASA on February 7, 1999 to study the asteroid 5535 (Annefrank) and collect samples from the coma of comet Wild 2. After Stardust successfully completed his main mission, it was approved in 2007 an extension to redirect the probe to explore the comet 9P/Tempel. The mission was renamed "New Exploration of Tempel 1" or "NExT".

Comet 9P/Tempel was the target of the Deep Impact mission in 2005 as the comet was inbound toward the Sun on its approximately 5.5-year orbit between Mars and Jupiter, sending an impactor into the surface of the comet. The impact and the ejected material were observed from the spacecraft and many ground-based observers.

The 2005 head-on collision of comet 9P/Tempel and the Deep Impact impactor

(Credit: NASA)

Animation of the 2005 Deep Impact on 9P/Tempel

(Credit: NASA)

During the flyby (at a projected distance of 200 km), Stardust-NExT will image some of the same surface areas that Deep Impact photographed 6 years ago, revealing how these areas have changed. This is the first time we'll see a close-up view of the same comet before and after its closest approach to the sun. In particular the hope is to be able to image the impact location of Deep Impact projectile. In fact Deep Impact's cameras were unable in 2005 to see through the enormous cloud of dust the impactor had stirred up.

Below you can see the planned imaging of Comet Tempel 1 by Stardust-NExT during flyby. Blue area is comet unseen surface never imaged by Deep Impact during 2005 flyby.

Bulls eye in yellow area is expected location of 2005 impact crater and expected new coverage.

Credit: NASA

As soon as new images of comet 9P/Tempel will be available, we'll post it on the blog. Stay tuned!!

by Ernesto Guido


Unknown said...

Fine post Ernesto! Thank You!

Team said...

Thanks @Martino, appreciated!!


Jim said...

Can't wait to see the images. Too bad 9P/Tempel 1 is too close to the sun to image from Earth....

Team said...

Ciao @Jim

Here's the first view of 9P/Tempel from Stardust, from 2630 km:

Looks like close-up views of nucleus will be available only in the next 8-10 hours.