Stardust-NExT meets Comet Temple 1.

Stardust-NExT is the reborn Stardust spacecraft that flew past Comet Wild II in 2004 and returned cometary grains to Earth in 2007.  After it successfully achieved its primary mission it was sent to observe Comet Temple 1 that had an explosive encounter with the Deep Impact spacecraft back in 2005  Deep Impact was sent to discover the structure of a comet, and found it was different to anything that had been expected.  It released a 327kg copper sphere that impacted the surface excavating a crater.  The explosion though was much brighter and released far more material than expected and so the impact crater was never seen by the Deep Impact spacecraft.  The hope is that Stardust-Next will be able to image the site of the impact.  The fly-by takes place on Monday 14th February (US time, actually about 3.37am UK time on Tues 15th Feb) but pictures will only be returned a few hours later, see it here.

We have strong interests in the Stardust mission having been one of the teams of several around the world who have received materials from the Stardust spacecraft.  Our speciality is in analysing noble gases in tiny quantities, particularly the heavy noble gases xenon and krypton and undertaking elemental and molecular imaging of the grain tracks in the captre aerogel.  We will be writing about those investigations soon.

Update, 15th Feb

It seems that mission control instructed Stardust NExT to return images from the closest encounter first but when the images started arriving, they were in time sequence, so taking much longer than anticipated before the images of closest approach were seen.  This has delayed the news briefings.  It looks like the images are here now though.

The copper projectile from Deep Impact impacted just about inbetween the 2 visible craters in the middle of the side facing here – for all the extremely bright flash and amount of material excavated during that impact, you would hardly know it looking at these images.

Credit NASA/JPL/Cornell


About Ian Lyon

Researcher interested in presolar materials, interstellar grains, interplanetary dust particles, in fact most things to do with the solar system and our near stellar neighbourhood
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