Deep Impact’s Top 10 Comet Crash Images

Comets will never look the same now that NASA’s Deep Impact spacecraft has successfully slammed into one of the icy wanderers in full view of orbital observatories, ground-based telescopes and skywatchers around the world.

Deep Impact’s Impactor probe crashed into Comet Tempel 1 at 1:52 a.m. EDT (0552 GMT) on July 4, 2005 while its Flyby mothership observed the event. The crash generated a wealth of images that spurred loud cheers at Deep Impact mission control at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).

“It was a pretty incredible day,” Monte Henderson, mission program manager for Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corp. which built the Deep Impact spacecraft, told SPACE.com.

“It is hard to believe something so tightly choreographed and complicated went so smoothly.” He said it was doubly gratifying to have a successful mission that gave the science community high quality data that exceeded their expectations.

What follows are just some of the myriad of stunning images produced from Deep Impact’s collision with Tempel 1 and the many observations that recorded the event.

Number 10: KAPOW!

Going through all of the data sent home by Impactor and Flyby will take much longer than the six months it took Deep Impact to reach Tempel 1.““There are many more spectacular images yet to be revealed,” said Michael A’Hearn, principal investigator of the Deep Impact mission at the University of Maryland, of this image during a July 4 press conference.

“The Deep Impact mission team is now on the sidelines with the rest of the world, anxiously awaiting the science team’s assessment of the data, Henderson said. “The science team spent the night here analyzing data, and they seem to be ecstatic with the results…and they have only seen 10 percent of the data so far.”

Number 9: With envious eyes

Deep Impact is not the only mission aimed at a comet. The European Space Agency’s (ESA) Rosetta probe is headed toward a comet encounter of its own, but took time out of its mission to turn its camera toward Tempel 1 during the Deep Impact encounter.““Tonight we have put a new trail for other people to follow after us,” JPL director Charles Elachi said after the successful impact. “The Stardust mission is coming back [to Earth] with comet samples, and Rosetta will be landing on a comet.”

Number 8: The view from here

More than 50 telescopes and 200 researchers pitched in to watch Impactor’s collision with Deep Impact’s Impactor probe, including the Faulkes Telescope North in Maui, Hawaii. Faulkes astronomers, like many around the world, observed Tempel 1’s coma brighten after Impactor slammed into its nucleus.“Mission scientists hope the multiple views will help them better understand the composition of Tempel 1 and the effect’s of Impactor’s collision on the icy wanderer.

Number 7: Bright shining diamond

Before becoming familiarizing itself with Tempel 1’s surface, Deep Impact’s Impactor probe took this image of the avocado-shaped comet.“Taken by Impactor’s targeting sensor camera, this picture’s brightness has been enhanced to show the jets of dust streaming away from the comet. The image was taken by the probe’s impactor targeting sensor.

““It wasn’t overexposed, we just stretched it to show the dust,” A’Hearn said of the image.

Number 6: Hubble’s view

In this triple shot, the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope shows clearly the effects of Deep Impact on Tempel 1.“Ten minutes before impact (left), Tempel 1 appeared as usual, but 15 minutes after the collision (center) the comet was four times brighter, with the dust envelope around its nucleus swelling outward by an additional 200 kilometers.

“Just over an hour after impact (right), the impact’s fan-shaped debris extends about 1,800 kilometers from the nucleus and is moving about twice the speed of a commercial jet plane.

“Hubble’s Tempel 1 images were taken the telescope’s Advanced Camera for Surveys’ High Resolution Camera, and part of the extensive observation program for the impact.

Number 5: X-ray impact

ESA’s XMM-Newton observatory compiled the images that make up this animation. They include observations from about two minutes before the Tempel 1 impact until about seven minutes afterward. These images were taken with XMM-Newton’s optical monitor blue filter, with which it is possible to measure the outcoming gas and dust.“Additional images from the instrument were expected in hours after impact, and should shed light on the composition of Tempel 1’s ejecta, researchers said.

Number 4: Hot Comet

In addition to optical images of Impactor’s Tempel 1 collision, the Flyby spacecraft also took careful infrared scans of the comet before and after the impact.“We don’t have an absolute on the temperature map, but you can see that the sunward region is the hottest part,” A’Hearn said. “This will be important to try and understand.”

Number 3: Closing In

A pristine Comet Tempel 1 flies through space, unknowing of the impending collision from the Impactor spacecraft. Researchers initially thought the comet was shaped like a pickle, but later learned it was more banana-like as images from Impactor and Flyby reached Earth.“One end looks rounded like a cylinder, and the top is sort of concave from the looks of it,” A’Hearn said, adding that his team hopes to have a complete model of Tempel 1 later this week.

Number 2: Craters or jets

During Impactor’s final few seconds before crashing into Tempel 1, the probe observed numerous features that seemed to resemble craters or fissures from outgassing, but only further study will tell, researchers said.“This is the first time we’ve seen things on the surface [of a comet] that look like impact craters to some of us,” A’Hearn said. “We have a big flat area on Tempel 1 that is curving around the surface, and we don’t know what that is yet.”

Number 1: Looking Back

In hours and days following the Impactor success, Deep Impact researchers will complete their download of the Flyby’s Tempel 1 encounter and look back data. Also on tap is science calibration imaging for the rest of the week, mission managers said.““But it will all be done in daylight shifts…quite a luxury for the team,” Henderson said.

“Henderson said the Impactor did its job perfectly, hitting right the middle of the highest center of brightness on the comet. Moreover, the Flyby spacecraft passed through the tail of the comet and didn’t incur any damage.

““All subsystems are in the same state as they were before the start of encounter. The optics show no sign of sandblasting, and the look back images are all looking great,” Henderson said.

““We didn’t even lose a single cell on the solar arrays. We certainly expected to have at least some minor damage. We couldn’t be happier.”

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~ by richart123 on June 20, 2008.

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