Tally-Ho on Comet Probe's Next Target

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A recycled comet probe that flew NASA’s Deep Impact mission has sent back its first picture of its next target, the comet 103P/Hartley, also known as Hartley 2.

The spacecraft won’t be letting loose an 815-pound metal slug to smash into the heart of the comet, like it did in 2005 when it flew by Comet 9P/Tempel. That was a one-shot deal, though NASA did approve an extension for the Deep Impact mother craft to visit another comet and conduct surveys for extrasolar planets on the way.

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As part of the Deep Impact Extended Investigation, or DIXI, mission, the probe will make its closest approach to Hartley 2 on Nov. 4. The craft is equipped with two telescopes with digital color cameras and an infrared spectrometer. Hartley 2 has a much smaller nucleus than previously studied comets, though scientist’s don’t know why. Comets are icy remnants believed to be leftover from the creation of the solar system.

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(Hartley 2 was 37 million miles from the spacecraft when this image was taken. The sun appears straight beneath the comet and celestial north is to the lower right. Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Maryland.)

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