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Stardust Mission Makes First-Ever Return To Comet

CmdrTaco posted more than 3 years ago | from the nice-to-see-you-again dept.

NASA 47

RedEaredSlider writes "NASA's Stardust probe made its closest approach to comet Tempel-1 on Monday night, marking the first time a comet has ever been revisited by a spacecraft. The mission, formally called Stardust-NeXT, for New EXploration of Tempel-1, was launched on its way in 2006. On Monday night it came within 181 kilometers (112 miles) of the comet, taking pictures and measuring the amount and composition of dust in the comet's coma, the plume of gas that surrounds it. It approached the comet at about 10.6 kilometers (6.7 miles) per second, making it one of the fastest probes that has yet flown. Stardust made its closest approach at 11:39 p.m. Eastern and after that, swung around its high-gain antenna towards Earth to transmit its data. The comet and spacecraft are about 336 million kilometers (209 million miles) away, so signals take a full 18 minutes to get to Earth."

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4D (1)

toastar (573882) | more than 3 years ago | (#35215444)

So they're going to have a 4D map of the comet.... Cool!

Re:4D (1)

blair1q (305137) | more than 3 years ago | (#35215530)

I'm going to need a 4D monitor to set it as my screensaver.

Re:4D (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35215766)

I used to have a 4D monitor, but that's a long from now.

Re:4D (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35215532)

That would appear to be the NExTSTEP, yes.

Re:4D (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35219186)

How is that different from any other video of anything? Four dimensions would just be mapping the object up/down, left/right, forward/back and over some time span.

10.6 km/s, relative to what? (1)

blair1q (305137) | more than 3 years ago | (#35215518)

I bet there are things moving at larger speeds relative to each other in Earth orbit right now.

Re:10.6 km/s, relative to what? (2)

Nyeerrmm (940927) | more than 3 years ago | (#35215644)

I'm not sure, but its probably quoted in an inertial frame relative to the solar system barycenter. However, its conceivable that it could be quoting the relative velocity of one object to the other (i.e. the distance between the two of them was changing at a rate of 10.6 km/s).

Most things nearby each other in Earth orbit are in similar orbits and thus have fairly low relative speeds. However, if you have polar or retrograde vehicles passing near conjuction with more typical near equatorial objects, then the typical LEO orbital velocity of ~7.8 km/s could produce similar speeds. However, in those cases you're not trying to take pictures of one with the other so it doesn't make much difference.

Re:10.6 km/s, relative to what? (1)

blair1q (305137) | more than 3 years ago | (#35216340)

However, in those cases you're not trying to take pictures of one with the other so it doesn't make much difference.

Not ever again, no. At least I hope not.

Earth's Orbital speed (2)

Roger W Moore (538166) | more than 3 years ago | (#35216850)

I'm not sure, but its probably quoted in an inertial frame relative to the solar system barycenter.

In that case it is a very slow probe since the orbital velocity of the earth vs. the solar system centre of mass is about 30km/s.

Re:Earth's Orbital speed (1)

Nyeerrmm (940927) | more than 3 years ago | (#35217912)

You're probably right, I hadn't thought much about the magnitudes, and the comet is highly elliptical and inside the orbit of Earth so its going extremely fast.

I was just basing my opinion on the fact that the JPL navigation system will default to the solar system barycenter if nothing else, so that might be where the number came from. However, a moment's thought tells me that of course the velocity would be queried with respect to the comet and that would be the number they quote.

Sorry for the misinformation.

Re:10.6 km/s, relative to what? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35215674)

The comet.

Re:10.6 km/s, relative to what? (1)

blair1q (305137) | more than 3 years ago | (#35216368)

Then I bet most of the things on Earth are moving about that fast relative to that comet. Or faster. By a factor of 3, for some comets.

Re:10.6 km/s, relative to what? (1)

michelcolman (1208008) | more than 3 years ago | (#35219068)

Yes, my probe is faster than NASA's!

The Ether obviously (1)

tizan (925212) | more than 3 years ago | (#35216098)

All that education wasted on what ...to be asking such trivial question.

Re:10.6 km/s, relative to what? (1)

modmans2ndcoming (929661) | more than 3 years ago | (#35217356)

shoot... I travel faster than that relative to the photons from my lamp. speed of light baby!

trademark issue (1)

tverbeek (457094) | more than 3 years ago | (#35215536)

"The mission, formally called Stardust-NeXT" I hope for their sake that Steve Jobs isn't sitting at home reading about this infringement of his old trademark.

Re:trademark issue (1)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 3 years ago | (#35215568)

It's actually Stardust-NExT.

Re:trademark issue (1)

ulzeraj (1009869) | more than 3 years ago | (#35215600)

Damn you and your case-sensitive file systems!

NASA website (5, Informative)

ulzeraj (1009869) | more than 3 years ago | (#35215542)

http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/stardust/news/stardust20110214d.html [nasa.gov] if you can't stand those damn add-infested pages. Also has better images.

Re:NASA website (4, Informative)

BJ_Covert_Action (1499847) | more than 3 years ago | (#35215586)

Even better: JPL's Comet images gallery [nasa.gov] and NASA's crater image gallery [nasa.gov] of pictures captured by this mission.

Re:NASA website (1)

francium goes boom (1969836) | more than 3 years ago | (#35215648)

If you scroll up and down the page fast enough it feels like you are really moving!

Re:NASA website (1)

idontgno (624372) | more than 3 years ago | (#35215806)

"That's no moon..."

Re:NASA website (1)

tibit (1762298) | more than 3 years ago | (#35220394)

Yeah. The time context of those images is especially mind-blowing. The whole sequence lasts a couple minutes.

Re:NASA website (1)

stiller (451878) | more than 3 years ago | (#35219046)

Tip: Scroll down through the JPL gallery really quickly for some impromptu animation.

KmMi? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35215640)

from the summary: "181 kilometers (112 miles) miles"

what the hell is a kilometer mile?

Re:KmMi? (3, Funny)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 3 years ago | (#35216704)

from the summary: "181 kilometers (112 miles) miles"

what the hell is a kilometer mile?

A kilometer mile is about 0.62 mile miles.

Re:KmMi? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35218456)

I think it's a measurement of area, for something like the French Embassy in Washington

size (1)

Spc 4 (1905406) | more than 3 years ago | (#35215844)

So how big is this thing? Is the size of a house, base ball stadium, or the island of Hawaii?

Re:size (2)

Nyeerrmm (940927) | more than 3 years ago | (#35215890)

7.6 km x 4.9 km. So somewhere in between a baseball stadium and Hawaii.

A small town may be the best 'library of congress' to use.

Re:size (2)

idontgno (624372) | more than 3 years ago | (#35216086)

Good point. A little google arithmetic and wikipedizing and I come up with Rosenheim, Bavaria [wikipedia.org] . That town's area is a close approximation of the area marked out by your dimensions (37.22 km^2 for the town v. 37.24 km^2 for the rock).

So, henceforth the maximal surface area coverage ("Lay it flat on the ground; how much ground does it cover?") will be designated with a non-SI unit "Rosenheims". Tempel-1 is very close to one Rosenheim.

Re:size (1)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 3 years ago | (#35216532)

If you were to populate Tempel 1, you'd do it inside the comet thanks to radiation. With that nice wide diameter you could dig a tunnel that goes around in a circle and install a high speed train to produce artificial gravity. The occupants could spend their day mining the interior to cover the surface with solar panels.

Re:size (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35217134)

The occupants could spend their day mining the interior to cover the surface with solar panels.

I would think that the very act of mining would destroy the solar panels that they're trying to remove, unless great advancements in solar panel mining techniques are made first.

Re:size (1)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 3 years ago | (#35217192)

sorry, you'll have to explain that more if you expect me to understand you.

I'm suggesting that there is the right types of materials inside the comet to refine into solar panels which could be used to cover the outer surface for power production. What are you saying?

Re:size (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35221650)

"For the Earth is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky"

Re:size (1)

Fnkmaster (89084) | more than 3 years ago | (#35219870)

More usefully, one might note that the island of Manhattan is about 58 square kilometers. A lot of people have visited Manhattan, and in so doing, often traverse the edge of the island by boat or, in part, by taxi cab. At the very least, you often go cross-town, and up and down town (though rarely all the way up to the top, as that's not a particularly well-visited area for good reason, unless you happen to be going to the Columbia football stadium).

So a far more useful visualization for most people might be around 2/3rds the size of Manhattan, or about the area of Manhattan south of 116th street (which is all of Manhattan you're likely to want to visit).

Re:size (1)

clickety6 (141178) | more than 3 years ago | (#35216244)

How about Australian territories? Norfolk Island is roughly 35 sq km.Or in Europe, Basel-Stadt, Switzerland is around 36 sq km. Getting closer...aha - Pavani Lake, Georgia - 37 sq km. Surely a place we're all familiar with!

Wrong Solar System? (3, Interesting)

Geodesy99 (1002847) | more than 3 years ago | (#35216032)

Scanning through some of the releases on http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/stardust/ [nasa.gov] "NASA's Stardust-NExT mission took this image of comet Tempel 1 at 8:40 p.m. PST (11:40 p.m. EST) on Feb 14, 2011, from a distance of approximately 946.05 trillion kilometers (587.85 trillion miles). The comet was first visited by NASA's Deep Impact mission in 2005." 587.85 trillion miles? ( See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trillion [wikipedia.org] for both defintions ) This would put it 6,314,828 A.U., or about 23 times the 4.365 Light years ( 276,041 A.U.) distance to Alpha Centauri. ... or maybe it is just damn fine imaging! :-)

Re:Wrong Solar System? (1)

idontgno (624372) | more than 3 years ago | (#35216160)

Well, more suspiciously, that number* is almost exactly 100 light years. [google.com] I wonder if someone at JPL is trolling us?

*note: Using the US-customary short scale [wikipedia.org] definition of trillion, 1.0 x 10^12, since NASA is a US organization.

Re:Wrong Solar System? (1)

Geodesy99 (1002847) | more than 3 years ago | (#35218648)

Not NASA trolling, They learned their lesson about conversions after the Metric Mix-up with the Mars Climate Orbiter ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mars_Climate_Orbiter#Encounter_with_Mars [wikipedia.org] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mars_Climate_Orbiter [wikipedia.org] ). I suspect the residents HD 38801b, HD 5319 b, WASP-18b, or even HD 45364 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HD_45364 [wikipedia.org] in Canis Major. Probably running some sort of Devil's Tower subliminal suggestion trick like they used in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and much less expensive than Monoliths. I, for one, welcome our new Canine Overlords!

Not as cool as landing on it though (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35216654)

I used to work at a small robotics company in NYC, that worked on NASA projects. We were building a drilling device that would be part of a lander that was supposed to go to Tempel 1. But NASA/JPL scrapped it in favor of Deep Impact (smashing into the comet instead of landing on it).

So instead of having a spacecraft land on the comet, drill 1 meter into it, take a sample and return the sample to Earth (yes it was ambitious), they opted for smashing into it with Deep Impact and fly bys/dust collection with Stardust.

I'm not really bitter, really. It was fun/cool working there, but I was disappointed that NASA switched things up on us.

Re:Not as cool as landing on it though (2)

Nyeerrmm (940927) | more than 3 years ago | (#35217712)

Did your company do the work involved with keeping the spacecraft attached to the asteroid while you drilled as well? If so how did you go about it?

In grad school we looked at a similar project, and ended up abandoning the idea because the gravity is so low and we couldn't find a good way to attach without a really strong impact or using a chemical laser to burrow into the surface upon arrival. Each of those we thought were too risky to go with.

Re:Not as cool as landing on it though (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35220632)

Yes, there was a spike that the whole spacecraft used to anchor itself. But that was being handled by the much larger team building the spacecraft and other components (NASA, JPL, etc). My company was just building the drilling device. I don't recall the mechanism they had in mind for attaching the spike, but probably an explosive charge that used the mass of the spacecraft as inertia to enable the spike to deploy successfully. Or maybe it was done during the landing process.

Some small details are here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Champollion_%28spacecraft%29

Re:Not as cool as landing on it though (1)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 3 years ago | (#35218482)

I used to work at a small robotics company in NYC, that worked on NASA projects. We were building a drilling device that would be part of a lander that was supposed to go to Tempel 1. But NASA/JPL scrapped it in favor of Deep Impact (smashing into the comet instead of landing on it).

That's what happens when you replace real scientists with the MythBusters.

Re:Not as cool as landing on it though (1)

BJ_Covert_Action (1499847) | more than 3 years ago | (#35221764)

What company was it? If you don't mind my asking....

but how is this a return? (1)

darkeye (199616) | more than 3 years ago | (#35218818)

like the same probe is now imaging the comet for the second time?

Re:but how is this a return? (2)

Nyeerrmm (940927) | more than 3 years ago | (#35222096)

Tempel-1 was the comet that the Deep Impact probe visited (and impacted) on July 4 2006. So this is a different spacecraft (Stardust-NExT) returning to that same comet after its close approach to the sun. The fact that its a return is interesting because we've never seen how a comet changes after perihelion (where all the volatility peaks), or in fact seen any indication of how comets change at any time. Since they are the most dynamic bodies in the solar system, this is highly valuable science.

All that really matters is... (1)

guybrush3pwood (1579937) | more than 3 years ago | (#35219794)

...how long until it hits Earth, and when is Bruce Willis and his crew launching to nuke it?
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