CAPE CANAVERAL, FL (CBS4) – A flyby revisit by a NASA spacecraft captured over six dozen intimate shots of a comet giving scientists valuable information and earthlings a phenomenal view.
Monday night the Stardust revisited the comet Tempel 1 that was hit by a probe in 2005 shot off by the NASA spacecraft Deep Impact. The 800-pound copper bullet probe formed a manmade crater in the comet, but it also dispersed a cloud of dust which prohibited the Deep Impact from taking pictures of it.
A second visit, passing within 110 miles of the comet’s surface, proved successful for the Stardust. In the six dozen photos captured, scientists were able to see the effects of the 6-year-old manmade impact and found evidence of erosion on the comet. But instead of the expected well-defined pit, the Stardust photographed what looked like a crater rim that was filled in the center. Scientists say that’s a sign that the plume set off in the 2005 impact fell back down into the crater.
Since NASA’s first encounter with Tempel 1, it has completed a full loop around the sun. Every time a comet completes a full orbit around the sun some of the material from the surface is lost and the comet’s brightness is dulled.
NASA planned on downloading the most intimate shots of the comet first, but a glitch in the system sent photos in the order they were taken-with the more distant views first. Space enthusiasts, who waited on Valentine’s evening for a glimpse of Tempel 1’s nucleus, were disappointed by the delay and many expressed their frustration on various social network sites.
Scientists plan on spending the next several weeks analyzing the data gathered from the Valentine’s Day photo shoot.