Launched on a clear winter day in
The mission of Deep Impact was supposed to conclude within weeks of this
The Deep Impact spacecraft, history's most traveled deep-space comet hunter, provided many significant results for the science community. Here are the top five, according to the mission's principal investigator, Michael A'Hearn of the
Studies of imagery showed that that the luminous flash created within a fraction of a second after Deep Impact's impactor was atomized by comet Tempel 1 was much fainter than expected. Comparison with experimental impacts at the
Observations of comet Tempel 1 by Deep Impact's spectrometer instrument showed that water was arising primarily at longitudes near noon and peaking near the equator, whereas most of the carbon dioxide was arising from far southern latitudes, not too far from comet Tempel 1's
For many years we have known that a handful of comets (fewer than 10 percent) produced more water vapor than should be possible by sublimation of nucleus of water ice, in which the sizes of the nuclei are known. The flyby of comet Hartley 2 showed a large number of icy grains in the coma are driven out of the nucleus by the outgassing of carbon dioxide. These icy grains are plausibly the source of much of the water coming from the comet.
Observations of Hartley 2 by the Deep Impact spacecraft showed the importance of carbon-dioxide ice relative to carbon-monoxide ice in comets, and led to reexamination of all previous observations of these two ices in comets. The relative abundances in short-period and long-period comets imply that the short-period comets formed under warmer conditions than did the long-period comets. Thus, the short-period comets must have formed closer to the sun than their longer-period brethren. This is contrary to popular belief in the astronomical community (for many decades) that the short-period comets formed in the Kuiper belt beyond Neptune, while the long-period comets formed in the vicinity of the giant planets. The new model fits well with measurements by other astronomers of heavy water in Hartley 2, and with the newest dynamical studies of planetary migration.
The excavation of a crater on Tempel 1 was the trigger that allowed the proposal for the Stardust NExT mission to succeed. In addition to searching for the crater formed by Deep Impact, a key goal of that Stardust-NExT mission was to measure changes in the surface of the comet over an orbital period. This second set of measurements of Tempel 1 surface features showed that much of the evolution was in discrete, large areas, i.e., there was not a small, uniform erosion of the all parts of the surface, but rather large changes in a few places. Thus, comets evolve in a manner anaologous to erosion - most erosion takes place in discrete events (floods that make large, local changes) rather than as a slow, continuous process.
JPL, a division of the
For more information about Deep Impact, visit: http://solarsystem.nasa.gov/deepimpact
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