EPOXI Mission Reveals New Insight about Hartley 2
November 7, 2010 1 Comment
NASA’s EPOXI mission spacecraft successfully flew past comet Hartley 2 at 7 a.m. PDT (10 a.m. EDT) Thursday, Nov. 4. Scientists say initial images from the flyby provide new information about the comet’s volume and material spewing from its surface.”Early observations of the comet show that, for the first time, we may be able to connect activity to individual features on the nucleus,” said EPOXI Principal Investigator Michael A’Hearn.
We certainly have our hands full. The images are full of great cometary data, and that’s what we hoped for. EPOXI is an extended mission that uses the already in-flight Deep Impact spacecraft. Its encounter phase with Hartley 2 began at 1 p.m. PDT (4 p.m. EDT) on Nov. 3, when the spacecraft began to point its two imagers at the comet’s nucleus. Imaging of the nucleus began one hour later. The spacecraft has provided the most extensive observations of a comet in history. Scientists and engineers have successfully squeezed world-class science from a re-purposed spacecraft at a fraction of the cost to taxpayers of a new science project.
[Image details:This image montage shows comet Hartley 2 as NASA’s EPOXI mission approached and flew under the comet. The images progress in time clockwise, starting at the top left. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UMD]
Images from the EPOXI mission reveal comet Hartley 2 to have 100 times less volume than comet Tempel 1, the first target of Deep Impact. More revelations about Hartley 2 are expected as analysis continues. Initial estimates indicate the spacecraft was about 700 kilometers (435 miles) from the comet at the closest-approach point. That’s almost the exact distance that was calculated by engineers in advance of the flyby. Tim Larson, EPOXI project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, said:
It is a testament to our team’s skill that we nailed the flyby distance to a comet that likes to move around the sky so much. While it’s great to see the images coming down, there is still work to be done. We have another three weeks of imaging during our outbound journey.