Monday, July 04, 2005

Nice Shooting, Tex. Deep Impact scores

NASA's Deep Impact mission culminated last night with the Impactor component of the mission successfully striking the surface of a comet about half the size of Manhattan.

::::::::A space probe hit its comet target late Sunday in a NASA-directed, Hollywood-style mission that scientists hope will reveal clues to how the solar system formed. It was the first time a spacecraft had ever touched the surface of a comet, igniting brief Independence Day weekend fireworks in space.

The successful strike 83 million miles away from Earth occurred at 10:52 p.m. PDT, according to mission control at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. Scientists on the mission — called Deep Impact, like the movie — erupted in applause and exchanged hugs.

(Click here for a desciption of the movie if you don't get the reference. Pretty good flick.) The point of the mission was to determine the composition of the comet. If it was primarily soft material, such as snow and ice, then the plume would be narrow and very high. If it's rock, however, the plume will be shorter, but a lot wider. Based on the pictures taken by Deep Impact's control component, I'd have to guess we were looking at a rock, there.

I just hope if there's an ET out there somewhere, they don't use a similar method to figure out what all that green stuff on the surface of Earth is. (Yes, I'm kidding. Kind of.) In any case, this was a successful mission and NASA's got a right to be proud of it. Good job, folks.