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NASA receives dramatic images of comet Hartley 2

5 November 2010
Comet Hartley 2, NASA's EPOXI mission (NASA/JPL/Caltech/UMD)

NASA got some nice pics in their inbox on 4 November from the Deep Impact craft, which snapped photos of a comet's core as the craft hurtled past comet Hartley 2. The viewing of the roughly 1.4-mile-long comet core occurred at 10 a.m. ET, according to the space agency.

Early photos of the encounter are strikingly detailed -- but scientists say they won't have the best, high-resolution shots from the craft until later. They show that the comet is propelled by jets spewing gases.

Deep Impact derives its name from its first mission, when months after its launch in 2005, a section of the craft was detached and rammed into the nucleus of comet Tempel 1. The agency plans to revisit Tempel 1 on Feb. 14 of next year. The overall mission is called EPOXI, a combination of the names for the two extended mission components: the extrasolar planet observations, called Extrasolar Planet Observations and Characterization (EPOCh), and the flyby of comet Hartley 2, called the Deep Impact Extended Investigation (DIXI). The spacecraft will continue to be referred to as "Deep Impact."

SPIE Fellow Richard Hoover, Astrobiology Group Leader at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center and chair of the annual conference on astrobiology at SPIE Optics + Photonics, called the images "wonderful" and praised the accomplishment of imaging the comet from a distance of 435 miles. "This is just absolutely astonishing precision -- to be within just 2 miles of the targeted trajectory of this rapidly moving comet 11 million miles away from Earth --- long after the Deep Impact Spacecraft had completed its mission to image and probe comet Temple 1."

Full story from NPR
NASA mission page: Comet Hartley 2 image gallery