Tempel Encounter

As mentioned previously, NASA’s Stardust spacecraft completed its journey and close approach of comet Tempel 1.

Tempel imaged from Stardust-NExT

NASA's Stardust-NExT mission took this image of comet Tempel 1 at 8:39 p.m. PST on Feb 14, 2011. - Click for full-sized version - Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell

As Stardust approached Tempel 1, it began snapping images;61 out of the 72 have been released at this point. After passing its point of closest approach, it turned to face the comet to image the comet as it shrinks back into the distance.

I had thought it would make be interesting to take the images and string them together into an animation, but before I had a chance I found the following one that was excellently done by Emily Lakdawalla at The Planetary Society Blog:

Animation of Tempel 1 by Emily Lakdawalla

This animation consists of 61 images of Tempel 1 taken by Stardust during its flyby on February 15, 2011. The images have been rotated 180 degrees (so that illumination appears to be coming from above) and aligned. Credit: NASA / JPL / Cornell / animation by Emily Lakdawalla

The Planetary Blog has a bunch of great information on the Tempel 1 encounter, and so much more; I recommend reading it on a regular basis.

So, what about that impact crater made by Deep Impact in 2005? Well, that crater is visible and recognized in some of the images that Stardust grabbed. You can check out this page to view some before-and-after images as well as other highlights of the recent fly-by. To my untrained eye, I even have a hard time noticing it when it’s pointed out to me. I’m sure skilled observers see a lot more than myself and further data will be used to better represent what we’ve learned from these new images.

Mission managers have called Stardust-NExT (New Exploration of comet Tempel) a 100% success, and for now, Stardust sails off on its orbit. I anxiously await to see what it might be called upon to do next!

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