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NASA Space Science

Stardust Mission Makes First-Ever Return To Comet 47

RedEaredSlider writes "NASA's Stardust probe made its closest approach to comet Tempel-1 on Monday night, marking the first time a comet has ever been revisited by a spacecraft. The mission, formally called Stardust-NeXT, for New EXploration of Tempel-1, was launched on its way in 2006. On Monday night it came within 181 kilometers (112 miles) of the comet, taking pictures and measuring the amount and composition of dust in the comet's coma, the plume of gas that surrounds it. It approached the comet at about 10.6 kilometers (6.7 miles) per second, making it one of the fastest probes that has yet flown. Stardust made its closest approach at 11:39 p.m. Eastern and after that, swung around its high-gain antenna towards Earth to transmit its data. The comet and spacecraft are about 336 million kilometers (209 million miles) away, so signals take a full 18 minutes to get to Earth."
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Stardust Mission Makes First-Ever Return To Comet

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  • by toastar ( 573882 )
    So they're going to have a 4D map of the comet.... Cool!
  • I bet there are things moving at larger speeds relative to each other in Earth orbit right now.

    • I'm not sure, but its probably quoted in an inertial frame relative to the solar system barycenter. However, its conceivable that it could be quoting the relative velocity of one object to the other (i.e. the distance between the two of them was changing at a rate of 10.6 km/s).

      Most things nearby each other in Earth orbit are in similar orbits and thus have fairly low relative speeds. However, if you have polar or retrograde vehicles passing near conjuction with more typical near equatorial objects, then

      • by blair1q ( 305137 )

        However, in those cases you're not trying to take pictures of one with the other so it doesn't make much difference.

        Not ever again, no. At least I hope not.

      • I'm not sure, but its probably quoted in an inertial frame relative to the solar system barycenter.

        In that case it is a very slow probe since the orbital velocity of the earth vs. the solar system centre of mass is about 30km/s.

        • You're probably right, I hadn't thought much about the magnitudes, and the comet is highly elliptical and inside the orbit of Earth so its going extremely fast.

          I was just basing my opinion on the fact that the JPL navigation system will default to the solar system barycenter if nothing else, so that might be where the number came from. However, a moment's thought tells me that of course the velocity would be queried with respect to the comet and that would be the number they quote.

          Sorry for the misinformat

    • All that education wasted on what be asking such trivial question.

    • shoot... I travel faster than that relative to the photons from my lamp. speed of light baby!

  • "The mission, formally called Stardust-NeXT" I hope for their sake that Steve Jobs isn't sitting at home reading about this infringement of his old trademark.
  • NASA website (Score:5, Informative)

    by ulzeraj ( 1009869 ) on Tuesday February 15, 2011 @06:26PM (#35215542) Homepage [] if you can't stand those damn add-infested pages. Also has better images.
  • by Spc 4 ( 1905406 )
    So how big is this thing? Is the size of a house, base ball stadium, or the island of Hawaii?
    • 7.6 km x 4.9 km. So somewhere in between a baseball stadium and Hawaii.

      A small town may be the best 'library of congress' to use.

      • Good point. A little google arithmetic and wikipedizing and I come up with Rosenheim, Bavaria []. That town's area is a close approximation of the area marked out by your dimensions (37.22 km^2 for the town v. 37.24 km^2 for the rock).

        So, henceforth the maximal surface area coverage ("Lay it flat on the ground; how much ground does it cover?") will be designated with a non-SI unit "Rosenheims". Tempel-1 is very close to one Rosenheim.

        • by QuantumG ( 50515 ) *

          If you were to populate Tempel 1, you'd do it inside the comet thanks to radiation. With that nice wide diameter you could dig a tunnel that goes around in a circle and install a high speed train to produce artificial gravity. The occupants could spend their day mining the interior to cover the surface with solar panels.

        • More usefully, one might note that the island of Manhattan is about 58 square kilometers. A lot of people have visited Manhattan, and in so doing, often traverse the edge of the island by boat or, in part, by taxi cab. At the very least, you often go cross-town, and up and down town (though rarely all the way up to the top, as that's not a particularly well-visited area for good reason, unless you happen to be going to the Columbia football stadium).

          So a far more useful visualization for most people might

      • How about Australian territories? Norfolk Island is roughly 35 sq km.Or in Europe, Basel-Stadt, Switzerland is around 36 sq km. Getting closer...aha - Pavani Lake, Georgia - 37 sq km. Surely a place we're all familiar with!
  • Wrong Solar System? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Geodesy99 ( 1002847 ) on Tuesday February 15, 2011 @07:30PM (#35216032)
    Scanning through some of the releases on [] "NASA's Stardust-NExT mission took this image of comet Tempel 1 at 8:40 p.m. PST (11:40 p.m. EST) on Feb 14, 2011, from a distance of approximately 946.05 trillion kilometers (587.85 trillion miles). The comet was first visited by NASA's Deep Impact mission in 2005." 587.85 trillion miles? ( See [] for both defintions ) This would put it 6,314,828 A.U., or about 23 times the 4.365 Light years ( 276,041 A.U.) distance to Alpha Centauri. ... or maybe it is just damn fine imaging! :-)
  • by Anonymous Coward

    I used to work at a small robotics company in NYC, that worked on NASA projects. We were building a drilling device that would be part of a lander that was supposed to go to Tempel 1. But NASA/JPL scrapped it in favor of Deep Impact (smashing into the comet instead of landing on it).

    So instead of having a spacecraft land on the comet, drill 1 meter into it, take a sample and return the sample to Earth (yes it was ambitious), they opted for smashing into it with Deep Impact and fly bys/dust collection with S

    • Did your company do the work involved with keeping the spacecraft attached to the asteroid while you drilled as well? If so how did you go about it?

      In grad school we looked at a similar project, and ended up abandoning the idea because the gravity is so low and we couldn't find a good way to attach without a really strong impact or using a chemical laser to burrow into the surface upon arrival. Each of those we thought were too risky to go with.

    • by Tablizer ( 95088 )

      I used to work at a small robotics company in NYC, that worked on NASA projects. We were building a drilling device that would be part of a lander that was supposed to go to Tempel 1. But NASA/JPL scrapped it in favor of Deep Impact (smashing into the comet instead of landing on it).

      That's what happens when you replace real scientists with the MythBusters.

    • What company was it? If you don't mind my asking....
  • like the same probe is now imaging the comet for the second time?

    • Tempel-1 was the comet that the Deep Impact probe visited (and impacted) on July 4 2006. So this is a different spacecraft (Stardust-NExT) returning to that same comet after its close approach to the sun. The fact that its a return is interesting because we've never seen how a comet changes after perihelion (where all the volatility peaks), or in fact seen any indication of how comets change at any time. Since they are the most dynamic bodies in the solar system, this is highly valuable science.

  • long until it hits Earth, and when is Bruce Willis and his crew launching to nuke it?

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