Monday, July 04, 2005
The stuff of comets. July 4, 2005
Whomp!--Everyone once in a while NASA does something remarkable, and in a billiard shot of classic proportions, they did it Saturday, hitting a comet in mid-space with an 820-pound object. The result was a huge and glorious explosion of stuff.
Now stuff is important because when you see stuff, you can analyze stuff and then tell what the stuff is that’s in a comet, which we didn’t know before. Traveling at 23,000 m.p.h., the copper impactor hit the surface of Comet Tempel 1 and blew out stuff, giving scientists all the data they can handle. The stunt was equated with hitting a bullet with another bullet and watching from a third, but they pulled it off, spending only $333 million [no complaint from me]. They hoped to impact [and that, ladies and gentlemen, is the correct use of the verb] a crater about the size of a football stadium so they can peak inside Tempel 1. Whether they did so or not was not immediately clear because, well, all that stuff flying out. The best pictures are yet to come. More important, the mother ship, the one tailing along and taking pictures, is doing just fine, sailing along 300 miles from the nucleus.
The shape of the crater will tell more about the consistency of the comet, how firmly it is held together. The venture should also tell us something about what comets are made of. Why do we need to know this? It is believed that comets are made of the remnants of the stuff that created the solar system. Stuff is good.
The best source is NASA, here.