Saturday, January 15, 2005

"Deep Impact" launches for real.
NASA Launches Spacecraft To Smash a Hole in a Comet

A NASA spacecraft with a Hollywood name - Deep Impact - blasted off yesterday on a mission to smash a hole in a comet and give scientists a glimpse of the frozen primordial ingredients of the solar system.

With a launch window only one second long, Deep Impact rocketed away at the designated moment on a six-month, 268-million-mile journey to Comet Tempel 1. It will be a one-way trip that NASA hopes will reach a cataclysmic end on the Fourth of July.

"We are on our way," said an excited Michael A'Hearn of the University of Maryland, the mission's chief scientist...

Scientists are counting on Deep Impact to carve out a crater in Comet Tempel 1 that could swallow the Roman Coliseum. It will be humans' first look into the heart of a comet, a celestial snowball still containing the original building blocks of the sun and the planets.

Because of the relative speed of the two objects at the moment of impact - 23,000 mph - no explosives are needed for the job. The force of the smashup will be equivalent to 4 1/2 tons of TNT, creating a flash that just might be visible in the dark sky by the naked eye in one spectacular Fourth of July fireworks display.

Nothing like this has ever been attempted before.... The resulting crater is expected to be two to 14 stories deep and perhaps 300 feet in diameter....

The scientists came up with the Deep Impact name independently of the movie studio, around the same time, neither knowing the other was choosing it, even though some members of NASA's Deep Impact team were consultants on the picture.

Deep Impact is carrying the most powerful telescope ever sent into deep space. It will remain with the mother ship when the copper-fortified impactor springs free... [NY Sun]
The NASA Deep Impact site... and cool "play with 'em" graphics over at the University.