December 14, 2004 8:55 PM PST

NASA to fire projectile into comet

NASA is gearing up for a head-on collision with a comet.

In January, the space agency will launch Deep Impact, a rocket that will fire a projectile into Comet Tempel 1. If all goes well, a collision will take place on July 4 that will raise a dust cloud that astronomers will use to study the chemical composition of the comet, said officials at NASA and researchers at the American Geophysical Union, a conference taking place in San Francisco this week.

The collision will create a crater with a 100-meter diameter on the 4-mile wide comet, a relatively minor hit.

"We are reproducing natural processes that occur all the time," said Karen Meech, a researcher from the University of Hawaii and one of the principal investigators on the Deep Impact project. "In a sense, this is a fairly small mark on the comet."

Comets are believed to offer a glimpse of the chemical composition of the early universe, but an in-depth study has always been difficult.

Deep Impact won't be easy either. The rocket will have to launch between Jan. 8 and Jan. 28 to arrange the hit on July 4, when the comet will only be 83 million miles from Earth. The rocket overall will have to travel 268 million miles. The copper-covered projectile will be moving at 23,000 miles per hour when it hits. For the last 12 hours of the journey, it will navigate itself.

The projectile is coated in copper because copper, unlike aluminum, won't react with water and it's cheaper than gold or silver, said Michael A'Hearn, a Deep Impact principal investigator and a professor at the University of Maryland. A "flyby" spaceship will relay back data and pictures.

Comet Tempel 1 is fairly typical for comets found in the Kuiper Belt, A'Hearn said.

The mission will cost roughly $311 million, NASA officials said.

3 comments

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Wow
It has to be a great honor to be the one to authorize $311 Million dollars to make an explosion on a comet millions of miles away. I sure am glad that we, as a country, are more concerned about fireworks on a comet that far away when there are so many other worthy causes to spend money on right here at home.


Yay NASA.

PS, before all of the science freaks come in and say that finding out about our universe's origins is important, I don't care about the origin of the universe.
Posted by (1 comment )
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blissbul ignorance
Perhaps you don't care because you are an ignorant fool who doesn't realize that all of the toys you hold dear owe their existance to basic research including, but not limited to, astrophysics which adds to the overall physics knowledge base. Try thinking with the appropriate part of your anatomy for a change.
Posted by Michael Grogan (308 comments )
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put money where it does good
Of course... years and years of feeding the hungry and housing the homeless has resulted in... comparable homeless rates and similar numbers of starving people. We spend WAY more on domestic problems than we do on the space program. Spending all our money on current issues is certain to be a losing policy as the future continues to rain down upon us. Resources must be spent on research for future advances in both technology and policy.

You may not care about the origin of the universe, but there are plenty of other things to be learned that can have tremendous benefit. And better solutions to existing problems can only be found through research.
Posted by David Arbogast (1709 comments )
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