At 10 a.m. Eastern time this morning, NASA’s EPOXI mission flew by comet Hartley 2 from a distance of 435 mi. and captured some new, strikingly clear images.
_Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UMD_ “Comet Hartley 2 can be seen in glorious detail in this image from NASA’s EPOXI mission. It was taken as the spacecraft flew by around 6:59 a.m. PDT (9:59 a.m. EDT), from a distance of about 700 kilometers (435 miles). The comet’s nucleus, or main body, is approximately 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) long and .4 kilometers (.25 miles) at the “neck,” or most narrow portion. Jets can be seen streaming out of the nucleus. The mission’s Medium-Resolution Instrument was used to capture this view.” — From NASA’s EPOXI mission page
Hartley 2 is only the fifth comet nucleus to ever be photographed by a spacecraft. But EPOXI is not just any spacecraft — the images come from the repurposed Deep Impact Flyby, which deployed an impactor into comet Tempel 1 in 2005. That makes Deep Impact the only spacecraft to ever image two different comets, and today’s pictures are the some of the best we’ve seen.
NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden commented on the flyby earlier today:
“The stunning new images returned of the comet as it zoomed past the spacecraft at a relative speed of more than 27,000 mph are awe inspiring. The images taken and other science collected should help reveal new insights into the origins of our solar system as scientists pore over them in the months and years to come.”
The images, up on the University of Maryland’s EPOXI web page, are pretty spectacular. We can see five close approach images at the top, followed by a timeline of images depicting 18 hours of the spacecraft’s journey en route to Hartley-2. According to Ball Aerospace & Technology Corp, which built the spacecraft, Deep Impact has downlinked nearly 5,800 images from the rendezvous to Earth and logged more than 3.2 million mi. since its launch.