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Space Science

Deep Impact Probe to Look for Earth-sized Planets 59

Posted by Zonk
from the its-continuing-mission dept.
Invisible Pink Unicorn writes "NASA has given University of Maryland scientists the green light to fly the Deep Impact probe to Comet Hartley 2. The spacecraft will pass Earth on New Year's Eve at the beginning of a more than two-and-a-half-year journey to Hartley 2. During the first six months of the journey to Hartley 2, they will use the larger of the two telescopes on Deep Impact to search for Earth-sized planets around five stars selected as likely candidates for such planets. Upon arriving at the comet, Deep Impact will conduct an extended flyby of Hartley 2 using all three of the spacecraft's instruments — two telescopes with digital color cameras and an infrared spectrometer."
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Deep Impact Probe to Look for Earth-sized Planets

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  • by Pearson (953531) on Thursday December 20, 2007 @07:59PM (#21772966)
    I'm glad that they are going to be hitting a couple of birds with the same stone. NASA really needs to get as much bang out of every buck as they can.

    I'm frustrated that the pace of space exploration is so slow. There is so much we don't know about our own neighborhood. By now we should have an orbiter around every planet and major moon in this system, and the cost of doing so would be tiny in comparison to the data gathered.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Awod (956596)
      Ah, but we can't give NASA more than 0.05% of the budget or the terrorists will win, or something like that..
    • by Half A Bubble Off Pl (1206132) on Thursday December 20, 2007 @08:36PM (#21773342)
      As long as there is no immediate benefit to the masses from space exploration (or science in general) it will always be playing second or third fiddle to "glamor" policies like war and social programs.

      What looks better on the tube --- enemies getting their asses kicked and old people looking neglected or the 1 minute orgasmic thrill of a rocket booster launch. Like a firework, a quick flame and WHOOSH, gone from view. Who cares about data collection and knowledge increases --- much too cerebral for Joe Blow voter. Whereas blown up "enemy installations" and insurgent body counts make for much better evening news updates. Throw in a few vacant-eyed old people scrapping by on SS only and you have yourself NEWS AT 11 everyday.

      So sad, but almost inevitable, given attention spans of the masses, it's "What They Want" after all ...
      • What looks better on the tube --- enemies getting their asses kicked and old people looking neglected or the 1 minute orgasmic thrill of a rocket booster launch. Like a firework, a quick flame and WHOOSH, gone from view.

        Ok. So here's the plan. We invent an enemy. We stage an attack on a few of our bases, and blame it on "Them". Then we set up some mock cities in Utah, or Alaska, or somewhere, and blow these "enemy" military installations to bits (on camera, of course). Make it look like we're liberat
      • What looks better on the tube --- enemies getting their asses kicked


        I wasn't aware that "enemies getting their asses kicked" was getting a lot of tube coverage these days. What tube are you looking at?
      • by GreggBz (777373)
        It's a shame people don't realize what space technology really means to humanity.

        - Satellites: Thanks for DirectTV Sputnik.
        - Meteorology: Thanks for the nightly satellite picture every evening news.
        - Agraculture: How much more food does the world produce because of surveys of our fields from space?
        - Science Fiction: It's enriched the lives of so many, but how much did real space exploration inspire it's creation?
        - Politics: The space race offered both a rallying call for nations to come together and e
    • by misleb (129952)

      I'm frustrated that the pace of space exploration is so slow. . By now we should have an orbiter around every planet and major moon in this system, and the cost of doing so would be tiny in comparison to the data gathered.

      That's some pretty valuable data!

      It is common for people who are not intimately involved in the processes involved in achieving something to fail to appreciate the time/work/energy that goes into it. Especially in this day an age when when so much is done for us (by computers or other pe

      • by Pearson (953531)
        Also, keep in mind that space exploration is, for the most part, a series of "one off" experiments.

        I don't understand this, though. Once you've made a successful orbiter, all you have to do is copy that one. Then all you have to worry about is getting the trajectory right to enter the orbit you want. Oh, and don't forget to convert to metric...

      • You shouldn't expect any serious space exploration until we can get to the point where we have more reusable equipment and methods. We had this to some degree with the space shuttle, but look how quickly that became obsolete.

        This is an impossible goal. When you're reusing your old stuff, you aren't innovating to create new stuff, and when you are innovating to create new stuff, you aren't reusing the old. You can't have your cake and eat it, too.
        • Say I'm enclosed in a steel box, with a delicious cake and a healthy appetite. To an outside observer, before she confirms whether or not the cake has been eaten by looking inside the box, would I be simultaneously having my cake and eating it, too?

          Just wondering...
        • I was told though that the cake is a lie...
        • by misleb (129952)

          This is an impossible goal. When you're reusing your old stuff, you aren't innovating to create new stuff, and when you are innovating to create new stuff, you aren't reusing the old. You can't have your cake and eat it, too.

          Well, I'm thinking along the lines of the airline industry. Planes stay in production for decades. They don't have to build a new one for each trip. If space exploration were more like that, we'd see more exploration. We're just far too early into it to see thiat kind of progress.

          -mat

    • by Xzzy (111297) <sether@@@tru7h...org> on Thursday December 20, 2007 @08:47PM (#21773490) Homepage
      After the budget the Senate passed on Monday, doing much of anything is pretty unlikely.

      NASA were just about the only guys to get a budget increase (3%), and even what they got will require sacrificing programs.

      Landscape is even worse for other fields of science:

      http://sciencenow.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/2007/1218/1 [sciencemag.org]
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by tbfee (1115043)
        Since when is keeping pace with inflation considered a budget increase?
        • by Tweekster (949766)
          Since when is keeping pace with inflation considered a bad thing?

          Sure I Would have liked to see the budget increased, but keeping pace with what they currently have should not be considered bad either
      • Bah, it's all a waste of money in my opinion. I mean, what has science ever done for us?
    • by bobnbob (1198307)
      Agreed, but not change is in site if the current administration has anything to say about it. Lets let the people in the Senate and House know how we feel and think about this as a major issue when voting for a canidate next year.
  • ...when all you have is a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail.

  • how big (Score:3, Insightful)

    by rossdee (243626) on Thursday December 20, 2007 @08:43PM (#21773452)
    Whats the size of the telescope on this probe? It can't be anywhere near as big as Hubble, and even though it maybe going further out into the so;ar system, thats not going to make it significantly closer to any extra solar planets.

    With a name like Deep Impact wouldn't make sense for it to look for any near earth asteroids or comets that might be coming our way.
    • Re:how big (Score:5, Informative)

      by edunbar93 (141167) on Thursday December 20, 2007 @09:31PM (#21774000)
      It doesn't need to be very big. Even ground-based amateur astronomers are able to detect transiting exoplanets using consumer-grade imaging equipment. You basically need a CMOS camera that's sensitive enough, and know when and where to look. If you record the star's brightness over the expected period of time, you can see the difference in your own measurements.

      The drawback of using Hubble to do this is that astronomers the world over are competing for time on it, so it's booked solid. The University of British Columbia has a satellite of its own [astro.ubc.ca], with a 150mm telescope (much smaller than Hubble's 2m) in orbit specifically to look for transiting extrasolar planets. They basically observe one star for months at a time, hoping to catch the dip in the star's brightness that would mean a planet is transiting. The telescope on this probe is probably about the same size, and since it's not going to be doing anything for the next year or so, why not point it at some candidate stars for that period? You might just get lucky. The fact that there's no atmospheric interference is really what makes the difference between discovering a jupiter-sized planet and an earth-sized planet with this method.
    • by E-Lad (1262)
      The main scope is a 11.3 inch aperture, solid tube Ritchey-Chretien type.
  • Probe trajectory? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by skoaldipper (752281) <{skoalstr8} {at} {gmail.com}> on Thursday December 20, 2007 @09:08PM (#21773728)

    The total trip -- measured from its December 31, 2007 flyby of Earth to its closest encounter with the comet on October 11, 2010 -- will be roughly 1.6 billion miles or some 18 times the distance from the Earth to the sun. It will take the spacecraft three trips around the sun before it can intercept the comet, which at that time will be at a distance of some 12.4 million miles from Earth.
    3 slingshot trips. Ok.

    At the nearest point of its flyby of Hartley 2, the spacecraft will be some 550 miles from the comet.
    Sweet. A close shave.

    What I couldn't decipher is how long will the probe be in close proximity to the comet? On opposing vectors? Or will the slingshot put it alongside the same trajectory as the comet coming up from behind? If the latter, now that's a pretty cool set of calculations, and should make for a nice long study of the comet.
    • by martyb (196687)

      What I couldn't decipher is how long will the probe be in close proximity to the comet? On opposing vectors? Or will the slingshot put it alongside the same trajectory as the comet coming up from behind? If the latter, now that's a pretty cool set of calculations, and should make for a nice long study of the comet.

      A little googling and some luck turned up this EPOXI Trajectory [nasa.gov] on NASA's web site. As far as I can tell, the craft will be traveling at right angles to the comet. Probe's final orbit in the image heads from top to bottom; the comet comes in from the right, loops around clockwise, and heads back out to the right.

      Hope that helps!

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by kalirion (728907)
      Wait a second, if the probe is called "Deep Impact", shouldn't it, you know, impact on something? I don't think flybys count.
      • Wait a second, if the probe is called "Deep Impact", shouldn't it, you know, impact on something? I don't think flybys count.

        The probe carried a 370 kg (815 lb) impactor. It "dropped" the impactor on comet 9P/Tempel back in 2005. The still-operating part of the probe carries the cameras that took pictures of the impact.

        Deep Impact now has an "extended mission", which is NASA-speak for "whatever useful stuff we can do with this probe we've already launched".

  • I want to know how they "lost" the first target comet...and where that sucker is.
    • by Dronak (994169)
      I read an article or few about this recently. A web search turned up this one titled NASA's Deep Impact mislays comet [theregister.co.uk]. That's not exactly an accurate title, because the mission couldn't really do anything to the comet. But it does mention what they think happened -- since a comet dissipating into nothing is very rare, it's more likely that it broke into a few large pieces that are far enough away from the original orbit of the comet that they haven't been detected yet.
  • by Midnight Warrior (32619) on Thursday December 20, 2007 @11:32PM (#21775122) Homepage
    For those of you who miss it on the main web-site, Ball Aerospace [ballaerospace.com] developed most of the scientific instruments. They are becoming pivotal to many of today's space-based observation instruments. Details on their involvement with Deep Impact are here. [ballaerospace.com]
    • by Vegeta99 (219501)
      Damn. I must be behind the times. I'm drinking Yuengling out of a Ball mug. How do I send it to space?
    • by Alioth (221270)
      Is that the same Ball that makes Coke cans? Their logo looks identical.
      • by odyaws (943577)

        Is that the same Ball that makes Coke cans? Their logo looks identical.
        Yep (a wholly-owned subsidiary of same). It also used to be the same company that made jars (like for jam), but the glass business was spun off some years ago.
  • The Kepler Probe, launched in Feb 2009, will aim its gigapixel eye at the same region of space for 3.5 years and look for brief dimmings of stars that are planetary transit eclipses. It's estimated that several hundred such events will be observed, including ones as small as Earth. The size and orbital paramters of new planets can be determined in many cases.

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