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JPL scientists excited by findings of close encounter with comet
LA CAÑADA FLINTRIDGE, Feb 16 (Agencies):
Published on 16 Feb. 2011 10:17 PM IST
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Six years after launching an 800-pound metal slug into the comet Tempel 1, scientists gushed Tuesday over what they called a perfect scientific mission examining how the comet had changed in the years since.
In addition to inching closer to an understanding of how comets evolve, scientists who pulled an all-nighter in mission control at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge were excited to see the crater they left in 2005 staring back at them.
At 8:39 p.m. Monday, the Stardust spacecraft made its closest approach to Tempel 1 at a distance of about 110 miles, snapping a total of 72 images, mission scientists reported.
The Stardust NExT mission was launched in 2007, re-purposed from an aging mission that had already made several stops - including a 2004 encounter with comet Wild 2. Monday’s flyby of Tempel 1 marks the first time scientists have viewed the same comet twice.
Co-investigator Pete Schultz, from Brown University, said Stardust NExT, along with the EPOXI spacecraft’s encounter with the comet Hartley 2 on Nov. 4, 2010, are helping scientists finally break through toward an understanding of how comets operate.
In 2005, NASA’s Deep Impact spacecraft deliberately crashed a probe into Tempel 1, collecting an important sample of dust and capturing a cloudy image of the comet itself.
The Deep Impact crater was also an important revelation, said Schultz.
Asked whether there was anything surprising about the crash site, Schultz said “the real point is that it’s consistent with what we saw in 2005,” with regard to movement of material.
The Stardust NExT encounter was designed to look at previously viewed areas before looking at new ones, a feat Veverka explained was accomplished by arriving at precisely the right time, which international efforts to monitor the comet’s rotation helped achieve.
Pointing to a slide of the comet taken Tuesday night that showed a region above the Deep Impact site, Veverka outlined erosions of about 20 to 30 meters that appeared in the time since.

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