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

Pundits Split Over Long-Term US Role in Afghanistan

Security pact remains condition for American presence beyond 2014; deadline criticized More

US Eyes Islamic State Threat

Officials warn that IS could pose a threat to US homeland More

Video Ukraine: Captured Troops Proof of Russian Role in Separatist Fight

Moscow says Russian troops crossed into Ukrainian territory by mistake 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.
Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocksi
X
George Putic
August 25, 2014 4:00 PM
How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocks

How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ukraine: Captured Troops Proof of Russian Role in Separatist Fight

Ukrainian officials say they have captured Russian soldiers on Ukrainian territory -- the latest accusation of Moscow's involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the Ukrainian side of the battle, where soldiers are convinced of Russia's role.
Video

Video Rubber May Soon Come From Dandelions

Synthetic rubber has been around for more than a century, but quality tires for cars, trucks and aircraft still need up to 40 percent or more natural rubber content. As the source of natural rubber, the rubber tree, is prone to disease and can be affected by bad weather. So scientists are looking for replacements. And as VOA’s George Putic reports, they may have found one in a ubiquitous weed.
Video

Video Jewish Life in Argentina Reflected in Yiddish Tango

Jewish people from across Europe and Russia have been immigrating to Argentina for hundreds of years. They brought with them dance music that were eventually mixed with Argentine tango. The result is Yiddish tango -- a fusion of melodies and cultural experiences that is still evolving today. Elizabeth Lee reports from the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, where one band is bringing Yiddish tango to an American audience.
Video

Video Peace Returns to Ferguson as Community Tries to Heal

Thousands of people nationwide are expected to attend funeral services Monday in the U.S. Midwestern city of St. Louis, Missouri, for Michael Brown, the unarmed African-American teenager who was fatally shot by a white police officer August 9 in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson. The shooting touched off days of violent demonstrations there, resulting in more than 100 arrests. VOA's Chris Simkins reports from Ferguson where the community is trying to move on after weeks of racial tension.
Video

Video Meeting in Minsk May Hinge on Putin Story

The presidents of Russia and Ukraine are expected to meet face-to-face Tuesday in Minsk, along with European leaders, for talks on the situation in Ukraine. Political analysts say the much welcomed dialogue could help bring an end to months of deadly clashes between pro-Russia separatists and Ukrainian forces in the country's southeast. But much depends on the actions of one man, Russian President Vladimir Putin. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Artists Shun Russia's Profanity Law

Russia in July enacted a law threatening fines for publicly displayed profanity in media, films, literature, music and theater. The restriction, the toughest since the Soviet era, aims to protect the Russian language and culture and has been welcomed by those who say cursing is getting out of control. But many artists reject the move as a patronizing and ineffective act of censorship in line with a string of conservative morality laws. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video British Fighters on Frontline of ISIS Information War

Security services are racing to identify the Islamic State militant who beheaded U.S. journalist James Foley in Syria. The murderer spoke English on camera with a British accent. It’s estimated that several hundred British citizens are fighting for the Islamic State, also called ISIL or ISIS, alongside thousands of other foreign jihadists. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from the center of the investigation in London.

AppleAndroid