News / Science & Technology

Stardust Spacecraft, Comet Aiming for Valentine's Day Rendezvous

Artist rendering of Stardust-NExT spacecraft nearing comet Tempel 1, 21 Jan 2011
Artist rendering of Stardust-NExT spacecraft nearing comet Tempel 1, 21 Jan 2011

Ever run into an old flame a few years after you last saw one another and think that he or she looks pretty different, maybe that time or sun exposure have taken their toll?   Now, for the first time, scientists are planning to follow up with a different body -- a comet -- to see how its looks have changed over the years. 

Mission objective

NASA's Stardust-NExT spacecraft has a date with a comet called Tempel 1 on the night of February 14th, which happens to be Valentine's Day.  During that rendezvous, with only 200 kilometers between them, the Stardust craft will snap 72 high-resolution pictures of Tempel 1.

And this is one comet that is used to being in front of the camera. A NASA mission called "Deep Impact" took photographs of Tempel 1 about six years ago.  That is the equivalent of one year in the life of Tempel 1.  

Close-up view

Joe Veverka, the principal investigator of the Stardust-NExT mission, told reporters at a NASA briefing Wednesday, that this will be the first opportunity to see how a comet changes between two close passages to the sun.

"We know that comets lose material, but the question is, 'how much does the surface change and where does the surface change?'  So we'll be able to answer that question by comparing our images with those taken by Deep Impact in 2005," Veverka said.   

During the Deep Impact mission, scientists actually crashed a probe into Tempel 1 and gathered the material it kicked up in order to study the comet's composition.  

Snapshot

Scientists said Wednesday that it will be a bonus if the Stardust spacecraft is able to capture an image of the crater created in that crash.

NASA says it is important to study comets because astronomers theorize they are part of a collection of gas, ice, rocks and dust that formed the outer planets of our solar system about 4.5 billion years ago.

Steve Chesley, a Stardust-NExT co-investigator, made it sound a bit sexier.

"Comets are not just inert, simple objects floating out in space.  They're dynamic.  They're active.  They're much more like a rocket with no one at the controls than something that's just idling there," he said.  

Sounds like a hot Valentine's date.

Useful data

Tempel 1's orbit brings it as close to the sun as the orbit of the planet Mars, and as far from the sun as the orbit of the planet Jupiter.  NASA says data from this upcoming mission could help explain the way the Jupiter-family comets formed.   

And this mission is expected to be the grand finale for the Stardust spacecraft, which was part of a mission in 2004 that collected particles directly from yet another comet.

The Stardust craft has been in space since 1999, and it is nearly out of fuel after traveling about 6 billion kilometers.

You May Like

Nigeria Incumbent in Tight Spot as Poll Nears

Muhammadu Buhari is running a strong challenge to Goodluck Jonathan, amid a faltering economy and Boko Haram security worries More

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo tells VOA that despite her fame, life is still a struggle as she waits for government's promise of support to arrive More

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

At least seven different indigenous groups in Ratanakiri depend mainly on forest products for their survival, say they face loss of their land, traditional way of life More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More