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NASA Space Science

NASA's Stunning Close-Up Photos of Comet Hartley 2 62

Several readers have sent word that NASA's EPOXI spacecraft performed a close approach to comet Hartley 2 yesterday, taking pictures within roughly 700km of the nucleus. Bad Astronomer Phil Plait has a collection of some fantastic photographs, and you can check out a ton of other images on the mission website. The Planetary Society blog put together a neat animation of the flyby. NASA's mission fact sheet (PDF) explains EPOXI's background — it's the supplemental mission of the Deep Impact craft that smashed a small probe into a different comet back in 2005 — and why Hartley 2 was chosen for this flyby (they couldn't find their original target).
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NASA's Stunning Close-Up Photos of Comet Hartley 2

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  • by BJ_Covert_Action ( 1499847 ) on Friday November 05, 2010 @05:30PM (#34142060) Homepage Journal

    Several readers have sent word that NASA's EPOXI spacecraft ....

    EPOXI is the name of the mission (an extension of a previous mission), the spacecraft itself is actually called Deep Impact. Just trying to clear up the ambiguity.

  • Anyone else having problems viewing the EPOXi webpage? It brings my Firefox to a halt and almost crashes my laptop. Nice way to design your website, embedding more than 70 big images that are just scaled. It shouldn't exactly be rocket-science to make some thumbnails! :)
    • by hondo77 ( 324058 )
      iMac/Safari: No problems.
    • Yes. Same here. With luck we will slashdot it so loading won't be such a memory hog.

    • firefox 4 on linux also no problems.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      It loads fine, if slowly, for me. I am sure the is some excellent reason to want to load very large image files where the magnified target consists of seven pixels, but I can't imagine what it is. The closer-up images are spectacular however.
      • put in your CGI script something along the lines

        convert -thumbnail 100 $QUERY_STRING thumbnail-$QUERY_STRING
        echo Location: thumbnail-$QUERY_STRING

    • by The_mad_linguist ( 1019680 ) on Friday November 05, 2010 @07:59PM (#34143376)

      Space pictures are big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big they are. I mean, you may think it takes a long time to down the load of the CSS, but that's just peanuts to space pictures.

      • by sharkey ( 16670 )
        You need to be careful with space. If you get to the edge, there's a vasty nothingness to be seen that is rumored to have profound negative effects on a man.
    • It shouldn't exactly be rocket-science to make some thumbnails!

      That's the problem. If it were rocket science, they would have got it right.

    • by Urkki ( 668283 )

      Anyone else having problems viewing the EPOXi webpage? It brings my Firefox to a halt and almost crashes my laptop. Nice way to design your website, embedding more than 70 big images that are just scaled. It shouldn't exactly be rocket-science to make some thumbnails! :)

      Indeed. It brought my firefox on an 8 years old laptop with original XP installation and 512MB of memory to a screeching halt. I had to close at least 10 tabs to get things back to normal. Unacceptable! Won't anybody think of the children?

  • Incredible (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Amazing pics - those are the kind of photos that make you look at the universe in a whole new way.

    • Looks very much like the description of the alien vessel in Rendezvous with Rama, minus the airlock. If it had had the airlock as well, THAT might have stirred some interest.

  • by Nyeerrmm ( 940927 ) on Friday November 05, 2010 @05:42PM (#34142182)

    The EPOXI team did a great job, but amazingly most of them are straight back to work after this. The Stardust NExT mission, another repurposing of a used deep space spacecraft is going to be revisiting Temple 1 (which deep impact originally hit) in another 4 months.

    Right after the flyby much of the team was in meetings to make sure Stardust gets where it needs to go. Not sure whether it'll be easier or harder though. The comet is larger and less likely to stray too far off course, but the spacecraft itself is a finicky thing that's nearly out of fuel... Should be exciting to see even more pictures like this in a few months.

    • by ArsonSmith ( 13997 ) on Friday November 05, 2010 @06:50PM (#34142834) Journal

      Yes, the EPOXI team really stuck together. Bringing both parts mixed well and things really solidified. You could say the real glue of the mission.

    • I know that Deep Impact uses its spare time for exoplanet hunting --- apparently, a flaw in its primary telescope mirror makes it ideal for photometric observation of stars --- but does anyone know if it's going anywhere interesting after the Hartley 2 flyby? Nobody seems to have mentioned anything.
      • I believe that it's basically out of propellant. So while it will be able to continue the exoplanet hunt for a while (it can maintain attitude with what little remains) they don't have enough to retarget it to a new asteroid or comet.

  • Aren't there supposed to be alien spacecraft following behind these comets? Every few years there's another group offing themselves in order to get a free ride on one of those spaceships.

    • by Quirkz ( 1206400 )
      Yes, there are 7 behind this one. You can't see them? Obviously you're not one of the chosen. Sorry.
  • On a related note (Score:5, Informative)

    by fiannaFailMan ( 702447 ) on Friday November 05, 2010 @05:51PM (#34142296) Journal

    Just found this animation [] of the 1986 Giotto fly-by through the tail of Halley. (QuickTime required.) Very cool. Apparently Giotto's still out there and going strong, took a detour through another comet some years later, still does the occasional fly-by near Earth and can be reactivated if there's anything worth looking at. Not bad for a probe that they weren't expecting to survive the Halley encounter.

  • Not sure how to explain the smooth terrain in the middle of the comet. Because the rough areas are associated with out gassing, the rough surface in that area is presumably the rubble left behind after much of the ice has gone. So is the smooth area non volatile? Maybe its mostly rock and the ice doesn't sublimate there.

    Or alternatively perhaps the smooth area had volatiles but only fine grained solid material so the surface left over doesn't look as rough.

    • I think it was actually two bodies joined by impact. It probably compressed and melted the joint, and outgassing is more likely to happen on the ends.

      Everything but the fact that its a joined body is pure speculation by me though, so take it as it is. I'm a rocket scientist, not a planetary one.

      • There's some commentary over at the Planetary Society [] that suggests (among other things) that the two bodies may not be joined, just gravitationally bound, and that the material in the middle is probably loose.

        What I think we are seeing here is a contact binary, two main bodies that orbit each other so closely that they are touching. Gravel and dust has flowed into the weird gravitational region between the two lobes, filling it almost as though it were a liquid. I'll bet that smooth neck traces out an equipotential surface.

    • Yeah, Looks like two objects bound together at one time due to gravity(low though it may be) not all the dust get blown totally away, some will settle back due to the week gravity. If the center part has less volatile and more dust, the dust will stay and not be out-gassed away. that would explain both the shape and the smoothness of the center part. just a guess.
    • test

  • What, so now they're making spacecrafts out of epoxi? I mean, sure I would expect the Chinese or Indian space programs to pull such. We'll lose our innovative edge if we can't do better.
  • So close (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Joe Snipe ( 224958 ) on Friday November 05, 2010 @07:01PM (#34142936) Homepage Journal

    I think one of our best bets on searching our galaxy would be to shoot a probe that burrows into one of these far reaching comets. It would give us a better observable range, and chances are that other intelligent life would be interested in observing the comet as well, should there be any.

    • by sznupi ( 719324 )

      "Probes searching our galaxy" - probably not the best way we could spend our time and resources. For a probe not to be destroyed on impact, it would need to be on virtually the same orbit before contact already - and all this for a fairly slow ride into still very close emptiness (the comet being the target of exploration - that's a different thing)

      However I do agree, in principle, that this might be how we will explore the galaxy, eventually. Oort cloud harbors perhaps even a trillion comets - that's a lot

  • It's amazing, how doggedly the existing 'outgassing icy comets' paradigm hangs on despite so much contrary evidence.

    How can anyone look at those pictures, and NOT recognize corona point discharges? Sigh. I suppose most people have never worked with high voltage systems, especially in vacuum, so they have an excuse. But still, NASA... it's really sad.

    If you have no idea what this is about, google 'Electric Universe'.

    • People would take Electric Universe theory more seriously if it didn't violate conservation of momentum.

      • by sznupi ( 719324 )

        Don't you know? It's just more lies! (conservation of momentum) All a conspiracy to make the few true geniuses struggle. But eventually, they will be recognized and place on the pedestal, among other few greatest minds of science...

  • I'd like to know a couple things:

    1) Do these images imply that the comet is not spinning? Or was it not in frame long enough to tell?

    2) Anybody know if there's an animation or a graph depicting the Deep Implact's flight path?


    - jw
  • Is there a photo or sketch of its size compared to scientific units like a) Bruce Willis, b) Aircraft carrier, c) Library of Congress?

    • At the lower right of the smooth middle, there's a small white lump just inside the shadow-line, poking up into the sunlight. A shard of ice or rock projecting through the surrounding dust. It's apparently 100 metres high. (330ft.) What's that, about 20 stories?

      Stare at that spot for awhile, imagine you're standing at the base of a 20 story building, and someone's taking an aerial photo of the area. Let your brain adjust to that scale. Now look at the rest of the comet.


  • Someone set us up the bomb.

Things are not as simple as they seems at first. - Edward Thorp