Ominous Quiet: Comet Probe Is Deep-Six

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NASA has formally ended its Deep Impact mission after a month of attempts to re-establish radio communications.

The robotic spacecraft was launched in January 2005 for an up-close encounter with Comet Tempel. The probe carried an 820-pound metal impactor that was released in the comet’s path. Tempel 1 plowed into the slug on July 4, 2005, generating a shower of particles from inside the comet’s body that were analyzed by the Deep Space mother ship and other observatories.

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The spacecraft then went on to study other comets and also doubled as an extrasolar planet hunter.

NASA last heard from Deep Impact on Aug. 8. A software glitch is believed to have caused the spacecraft’s computer to lose its ability to properly position itself for radio communications with Earth.

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“I’m saddened by its functional loss. But, I am very proud of the many contributions to our evolving understanding of comets that it has made possible,” lead scientist Michael A’Hearn, with the University of Maryland, said in a statement.

Image: Artist’s impression of NASA’s Deep Impact sending its impactor toward Comet Tempel 1 in 2005. Credit: NASA

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