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.
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.
(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.)