|Deep Impact: Comet Tempel|
Imagine shouldering your hunting rifle, taking careful aim, squeezing off a round and hitting your target dead center...at a distance of nearly 270 million miles. Well, that's a pretty good description of what the engineers at NASA/JPL accomplished in 2005. The Deep Impact mission launched January 12, 2005, beginning a 174 day, 267 million mile journey towards a close encounter of the worst kind. The goal of Deep Impact was to deliver an 820-lb. copper projectile to comet 9P/Tempel. The 21st century missile was expected to gouge a stadium-sized crater into the comet and give scientists a look at the pristine interior of one of the oldest residents of the Solar System. The mission reached a climax at 1:52 am EDT (05:52 UT) on July 4, when the projectile slammed into comet Tempel at 23,000 miles per hour. Comet Tempel was 83 million miles from Earth when the shot fired nearly six months earlier hit home.
Astronomers around the world took up the challenge of monitoring comet Tempel during the spring and early summer 2005. Of particular interest, was the possibility of seeing a noticeable change in the comet's appearance after impact. Mission scientists had predicted that the comet might brighten by as much as three full magnitudes. But nobody knew with certainty what would happen. I observed the comet in early June and, again, the night of the impact. The below links will take you to my notes and sketches from those sessions.
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Revised: April 15, 2006 [WDF]