A DIRECT HIT! DEEP IMPACT SLAMS 9P/TEMPLE 1
Monday, July 04 2005 @ 12:54 pm EDT
Contributed by: bobmoody
In the early morning hours of July 4 at approximately 12:52 A.M., an 820 pound copper projectile released from the NASA Deep Impact spacecraft just 24 hours earlier smashed into comet 9P/ Temple 1. The projectile struck the comet at an impact speed of roughly 37,000 mph with hopes of creating a huge impact crater thereby uncovering the comet's icy innards. It's the stuff inside comets that scientists want most to see and study, and judging by the gigantic plume of material which rose from the comet surface as the impactor hit, they should now get exactly what they wanted.
It's believed that comets are "left-over" remnants from the creation of the solar system. If the theory is correct, the material blown off the comet from this high-speed impact will give scientists their first ever clues as to exactly what the early solar nebula was made of, as well as the proportions in which those materials exist. As the time drew near for this cosmic fireworks show to begin, the tension in the JPL control room was evident. That tension turned to jubilant shouts and cries of congratulations as the control room realized that this first-of-its-kind mission had been a smashing success.
As the next few days pass, the world will see a wealth of images from an armada of space-based and Earth-based telescopes. The best views came from the Deep Impact mother ship as well as from the Impactor craft itself as its onboard cameras took pictures right up until the final three seconds of its existence. The mother ship's onboard instruments then gathered data of the comet's composition from the debris ejected by the impact. At the same time its cameras captured the rapidly evolving views of the comet surface where the Impactor was vaporized by the collision that created a huge crater.
Everything went exactly as planned and a mountain of data from this impact is being gathered by nearly every available telescopic instrument from around the world. When all is said and done we may finally find the answers that mankind has sought since the dawn of history…. Just what is a comet, anyway?
This image shows the Deep Impact mother ship's view as it sailed safely past the area of impact. The huge plume of material flying away from the comet surface was considerably more spectacular than anyone would have hoped for, and truly gave this mission the Fourth of July "fireworks" performance that all the world of science had wanted and waited to see.
More images are available on our aoas.org website in the Photo Gallery under "Science Photos". Many more images will be added to this first set of images as they are released by NASA over the coming days and weeks.