First Stardust-NExT Images of Comet Tempel 1

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After a delayed start to the Valentines Day proceeds, the first photos of comet Tempel 1 were received by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif., early Tuesday morning.

The picture above was taken by Stardust-NExT (New Exploration of Tempel) from a distance of 1,360 miles to the comet at 11:36 p.m. EST. (Browse the images as they are received by JPL.)

SLIDE SHOW: Close Encounters with Comets

Mission managers were hoping to have received the closest-approach images first, but, due to a glitch, the approach images were beamed back to Earth in sequence, meaning we’ll have to wait until later Tuesday morning to see the closest photos of the comet. As a result, the NASA press conference on Tuesday has been postponed until 1 p.m. EST to give scientists some time to analyze the data.

At closest approach — within 112 miles from the comet’s surface — the veteran probe will have hopefully imaged some of the fine detail of Tempel 1′s icy body.

This is the first time a comet has been visited by two different spacecraft. The first probe to image Tempel 1 was NASA’s Deep Impact spacecraft in 2005.

Deep Impact dropped a washing machine-sized copper projectile into the comet. The results of this unprecedented impact were observed by the spacecraft and Earth-based observatories.

By visiting a comet twice over the course of six years, scientists hope to learn how a comet changes during its orbit around the sun. Of particular interest is the crater that was left by the Deep Impact projectile. If Stardust-NExT was able to spot it, how does the impact crater look now?

So, we have to be patient a few more hours until we find out whether this Valentine’s Day date was as successful as we all hope.

To take a look at what the spacecraft saw, click on the video below:

Image: Comet Tempel 1 from afar. Credit: NASA

Tags Space Comets