NASA Spacecraft Visits Small Comet - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

NASA Spacecraft Visits Small Comet

PASADENA, California - A NASA spacecraft survived a rendezvous with a small comet Thursday, beaming pictures back to Earth that gave scientists a rare close-up view of its center.

Mission controllers burst into applause upon seeing images from the flyby that revealed a peanut-shaped comet belching jets of poisonous gases.

"It's hyperactive, small and feisty," said mission scientist Don Yeomans of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

The close encounter occurred 13 million miles (21 million kilometers) away from Earth when the Deep Impact craft, hurtling through space, flew within 435 miles (700 kilometers) of comet Hartley 2. It's the fifth time that a comet's core has been viewed up close.

Scientists are interested in comets because they're icy leftovers from the formation of the solar system about 4.5 billion years ago. Studying them could provide clues to how Earth and the planets formed and evolved.

The flyby is actually an encore mission for Deep Impact. It set off cosmic fireworks on July 4, 2005, when it fired a copper probe that crashed into comet Tempel 1. The high-speed collision spewed a cloud of debris into space, giving scientists their first peek of the interior.

 

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