Comet fly-by success!

Comet Tempel 1

NASA's Stardust-NExT mission took this image of comet Tempel 1 at 8:36pm US PST (11:36pm US EST) on Feb 14, 2011, from a distance of approximately 2.20 thousand kilometres.

MISSION CONTROLLERS at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory watched as data downlinked from the Stardust spacecraft indicated it completed its closest approach with comet Tempel 1.

Preliminary data transmitted from the spacecraft indicated the time of closest approach was about 3:39pm Tuesday, Sydney time (Monday, 8:39pm US PST or 11:39pm US EST), at a distance of 181 kilometres from Tempel 1.

An hour after closest approach, the spacecraft turned to point its large, high-gain antenna at Earth to start sending back the 72 images taken during the fly-by.

Soon after the first images began arriving, it became apparent that an unknown glitch had changed the order in which they were being sent.

Mission controllers had commanded the spacecraft to send the middle five images first. These are the ones that were taken at the time of closest approach, when the comet would have filled the frame and lots of detail would be seen.

Instead, Stardust-NExT began sending the images in the order they were taken, starting with distant shots showing a small comet nucleus surrounded by the black of space.

The first six of those images were released shortly after they arrived from the spacecraft. They all look pretty much the same, so we’re showing only two of them with this story.

Comet Tempel 1

NASA's Stardust-NExT mission took this image of comet Tempel 1 at 8:35pm US PST (11:35pm US EST) on Feb 14, 2011, from a distance of approximately 2.28 thousand kilometres.

A press conference originally scheduled for 5:00am Sydney time Wednesday (Tuesday, 10:00am US PST or 1:00pm US EST) has been rescheduled for 8:00am Sydney time (Tuesday, 4:00m US EST). It is expected that the good images will be released during that conference.

You can watch the press conference live on NASA TV.

Adapted from information issued by NASA / JPL-Caltech / Cornell.

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