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

Video British Fighters on Frontline of Islamic State Information War

It’s estimated that several hundred British citizens are fighting for Islamic State alongside other foreign jihadists More

Pakistan's Political Turmoil Again Shines Spotlight on Military

Thousands of protesters calling for PM Sharif to step down continue protests in front of parliament, as critics fear political impasse could spur another military coup More

Photogallery Ebola Quarantines Spark Anxiety in Liberian Capital

Food prices rise sharply as residents attempting purchases clash with security forces, leaving one person dead 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.
Native Bees May Help Save Cropsi
X
Deborah Block
August 22, 2014 12:23 AM
U.S. President Barack Obama has called for a federal strategy to promote the health of bees that have been declining. The honeybee has been waning due to parasites, disease and pesticides. Wild bees may be used to take over their role as crop pollinators. Scientists first need to learn a lot more about wild bees, says biologist Sam Droege, who is pioneering the first national inventory on native bees. VOA’s Deborah Block went to his research laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, to bring you more.
Video

Video Native Bees May Help Save Crops

U.S. President Barack Obama has called for a federal strategy to promote the health of bees that have been declining. The honeybee has been waning due to parasites, disease and pesticides. Wild bees may be used to take over their role as crop pollinators. Scientists first need to learn a lot more about wild bees, says biologist Sam Droege, who is pioneering the first national inventory on native bees. VOA’s Deborah Block went to his research laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, to bring you more.
Video

Video US Defense Officials Plan for Long-Term Strategy to Contain Islamic State

U.S. defense officials say American air strikes in Iraq have helped deter Islamic State militants for the time being, but that a broad international effort is needed to defeat the extremists permanently. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel warned Thursday that the group formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, is better organized, and financially and militarily stronger than any other known terrorist group. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Drug-Resistant Malaria Spreads in Southeast Asia

On Thailand’s border with Myanmar, also known as Burma, a malaria research and treatment clinic is stepping up efforts to eliminate a drug-resistant form of the parasite - before it spreads abroad. Steve Sandford reports from Mae Sot, Thailand.
Video

Video Gaza Conflict, Hamas Popularity Challenge Abbas

The Palestinian unity government of Mahmoud Abbas has failed to convince Hamas to agree to Egyptian-negotiated terms with Israel on a Gaza cease-fire. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports on what the Gaza conflict means for President Abbas, with whom U.S. officials have worked for years on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Video

Video Nigeria's 'Nollywood' Movie Industry Rolls in High Gear

Twenty years after its birth in a video shop in Lagos, Nigeria's "Nollywood" is one of the most prolific film industries on earth. Despite low budgets and whirlwind production schedules, Nigerian films are wildly popular in Africa and industry professionals say they hope, in the future, their films will be as great in quality as they are in quantity. Heather Murdock has more for VOA from Lagos.
Video

Video UN Launches 'Biggest Aid Operation in 30 Years' in Iraq

The United Nations has launched what it describes as one of the biggest aid operations in 30 years in northern Iraq, as hundreds of thousands of refugees flee the extremist Sunni militant group calling itself the Islamic State. As Kurdish and Iraqi forces battle the Sunni insurgents, the fighting has forced more people to flee their homes. Kurdish authorities say the international community must act now to avert a humanitarian catastrophe. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Cambodian American Hip Hop Artist Sings of Personal Struggles

A growing underground movement of Cambodian American hip hop artists is rapping about the struggles of living in urban America. Most, if not all of them, are refugees or children of refugees who came to the United States from Cambodia to escape the Khmer Rouge genocide of the 1970s. Through their music, the artists hope to give voice to immigrants who have been struggling quietly for years. Elizabeth Lee reports from Long Beach, California.
Video

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid