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Exploring Space: Images from NASA - FROM OMENS TO IMPACT

FROM OMENS TO IMPACT (Illustration) World History Famous Historical Events Aviation & Space Exploration STEM Visual Arts Astronomy

On the 4th of July, 2005, a NASA spacecraft called “Deep Impact” released an impactor which struck a comet known as “Tempel 1.” This artist’s impression depicts how that encounter may have appeared. Image credit: Pat Rawlings, U. Md., JPL, NASA. Click on the image for a much-better view.

 

From a rooftop observatory in the city of Danzig (now Gdansk), Johannes Hevelius used his astronomical instruments  to search the sky.

With items like a 150-foot refractor (extending over several houses) and an azimuth quadrant (fixing the location of his observations), Hevelius discovered the comets of 1652 and 1661. In 1668, he published Cometographia which, among other things, illustrates various comet forms.

Also in 1668, Stanislaus Lubienietzki published his lavishly illustrated Theatrum Cometicum (“The Theatre of Comets”). Among its many pictures is a woodcut showing the perceived destructive influence of a fourth-century comet. His entire book is available at the National Digital Library of Poland. (Although that site goes offline occasionally, we encourage you to view its amazing contents.)

Artists created drawings of other seventeenth-century comets:
  • The Great Comet of 1680 (discovered by Gottfried Kirch) was featured in Germany with captions like: “New Miracles - A Large Comet-Star.”
  • In 1682, Halley’s Comet (although not-yet called by that name) appeared in the European sky. One artist made it seem like the comet was extremely close to Earth.
In fact, comets are in orbit far above Earth. But ... what if it were possible to send a probe directly into a comet’s orbit? What if that probe could take pictures of the comet’s nucleus? What if the probe actually impacted the comet’s surface?
 
Those questions, and answers, are no longer speculative. Less than a thousand years after Halley’s Comet seemed like a bad omen in Britain—939 years to be exact—NASA launched an unmanned mission, called "Deep Impact," to a comet, called Tempel 1, for an “up close and personal” look.
 
What was the plan?
 
Send a spacecraft (called the “FLYBY”) to launch a smaller spacecraft (called the “IMPACTOR”) directly into the path of Tempel 1 (a comet about the size of Manhattan Island), causing a collision between the two. FLYBY (repositioned safely out-of-the-way) would standby to observe and record what happened, transmitting electronic images to Earth.
 
Although many things could have gone wrong, FLYBY (after traveling 268 million miles, or 431 million kilometers) delivered IMPACTOR (battery-operated, thruster-equipped and made mostly of copper) which smacked into Tempel 1 at speeds of 23,000 miles per hour. NASA’s animated recreation depicts those events of 3 July 2005.
 
After successfully completing its “Deep Impact” mission, beginning the science of cometary geology, FLYBY went into sleep mode. NASA officials will “awaken it,” as needed, for other possible investigations.
 
Meanwhile, two other NASA vehicles have been hard at work ... on Mars.
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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5124stories and lessons created

Original Release: Jun 01, 2008

Updated Last Revision: Oct 04, 2017


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