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Close Encounters of the Comet Kind
November 4, 2010 10:42 AM   Subscribe

Earlier today a comet passed just 435 miles from a spacecraft. The NASA spacecraft EPOXI took some amazing pictures of the event. Scientists are still working to determine if there was any damage to the spacecraft as the comet passed by.
posted by morganannie (56 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite

 
Please please please let there be nude space vampires...
posted by Joe Beese at 10:46 AM on November 4, 2010 [6 favorites]


Fantastic
posted by zeoslap at 10:49 AM on November 4, 2010


As the picture site was loading I tried to think what I would imagine a picture of a comet passing by would look like. It was cooler than I expected.
posted by ghharr at 10:50 AM on November 4, 2010


Somewhere, in the dark reaches of space, a gigantic space dog is missing its chew bone.
posted by theodolite at 10:50 AM on November 4, 2010 [4 favorites]


Totally Photoshopped.
posted by bondcliff at 10:52 AM on November 4, 2010


Dammit Joe! But seriously, the youtube video doesn't do it justice.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 10:53 AM on November 4, 2010


MISTER PEANUT IS SUPERMAN
posted by Sys Rq at 10:55 AM on November 4, 2010


Outer space is freaking me out.
posted by CynicalKnight at 10:58 AM on November 4, 2010


The part of me that got up early in my childhood to watch the Voyager flybys and shuttle launches thinks this is just the coolest thing ever, to be able to get a camera that close to a comet.

The rest of me thinks the last two pictures look like the prophecied coming of the Glowing Space Manatee.
posted by cmyk at 11:00 AM on November 4, 2010


Oh that is one of the coolest things I have ever seen. Seriously.

[This is God]
posted by Rumple at 11:01 AM on November 4, 2010


I love NASA. I hope the new nutty congress critters don't slash their budget.
posted by msbutah at 11:09 AM on November 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


AM I a terribly person for thinking "WTF, why don't they have video" and "Why didn't they put a laser cannon on the craft so they could shoot at it"?
posted by nomadicink at 11:09 AM on November 4, 2010


Awesome!

SPACE PEANUT SAYS SAVE THE WHALES
posted by Artw at 11:09 AM on November 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


So very cool. What an amazing universe...
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 11:10 AM on November 4, 2010


I know this is just a chunk of rock and ice flying through space, probably one of billions, but I am completely in awe of these photos.
posted by HumanComplex at 11:10 AM on November 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


"Why didn't they put a laser cannon on the craft so they could shoot at it"?

The probe already fired its missile at another comet. It's out of ammo.
posted by vibrotronica at 11:14 AM on November 4, 2010 [5 favorites]


I work in a science lab. After showing these images around the lab, I have scientifically classified my lab mates into two categories: those who are fascinated by space stuff, and those who are not. Those who are not need to see me after class to discuss their lack of fascination with the universe.
posted by StrangerInAStrainedLand at 11:15 AM on November 4, 2010 [5 favorites]


How have I not heard of Lifeforce before? This must be the basis for the "space vampires" jokes through the 80s and 90s (I'm thinking mainly of Calvin and Hobbes here). And it features Patrick Stewart?
posted by DU at 11:17 AM on November 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've grown used to looking at blurry photos of tiny specks, usually just a few light pixels on a dark background, with a breathless-yet-fascinating explanation of what it is I'm supposed to be seeing.

There is zero confusion as to what these are: AWESOME GIANT SPACE ROCK!
posted by lekvar at 11:17 AM on November 4, 2010


This is super-awesome. Thanks for the post!
posted by buzzkillington at 11:21 AM on November 4, 2010


In related news, a local California grocery was sold out of kool-aid.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 11:23 AM on November 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


Man, space is just the best.
posted by penduluum at 11:24 AM on November 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Looks more like a bowling pin than a peanut. (cue Lebowski derail in 5...4...3...)

I love this stuff. It's really cool, and takes my mind off the election. Yeah!
posted by Mcable at 11:34 AM on November 4, 2010


Thankfully none of my bosses are here, so I don't have to sneak glances at this. To quote Keanu: "Whoa!"
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 11:46 AM on November 4, 2010


@ Joe Beese - That clip had the first pre-Apollo13 movie quote of "Houston, we have a problem." At least that I can recall.

/Nerd trivia
posted by WerewolvesRancheros at 11:46 AM on November 4, 2010


@ Mcable - "That comet really tied the room together."
posted by WerewolvesRancheros at 11:47 AM on November 4, 2010


So, lemme see if I got this right, the comet is going something like 27,000 miles an hour through the vast imponderable emptiness of space, and we were able to launch a satellite that got within 435 miles and took photos?

That's like the distance I am here in Milwaukee from Louisville, Kentucky. It's nothing! I could drive it in less than half a damn day.

Distances in space are always "within a hundred thousand kilometers" or something, not "a bored road trip with some friends"...

That's is fucking awesome!
posted by quin at 11:51 AM on November 4, 2010 [9 favorites]


"That's is" demonstrating my excitement
posted by quin at 11:52 AM on November 4, 2010


WTF, why don't they have video

Yes. And audio. Then you could hear it whooOOOOooosh! Imagine the doppler effect at 27,000mph. hamburger
posted by NailsTheCat at 12:10 PM on November 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's unfortunate that this was a black-and-white camera, if it had been otherwise we probably would have been able to record a new kind of colour.... Q. Does everything have to be a Lovecraft reference? A. Yes. Yes it does.
posted by JHarris at 12:13 PM on November 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


The probe already fired its missile at another comet. It's out of ammo.

Great googly moogly, the geniuses at NASA repurposed an existing space probe, used the Earth's gravity well to slingshot it into deep space, and calculated a rendezvous with a comet within hundreds of miles -- with a bonus mission to extrasolar planets into the bargain!

It's like an episode of Star Trek come to life. Well, except for obtaining funding for a two-year extension...

My hat's off to the EXPXI project. What amazing images.
posted by Gelatin at 12:15 PM on November 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


Yes. And audio. Then you could hear it whooOOOOooosh! Imagine the doppler effect at 27,000mph.

Silly. In space no one can hear you whooOOOOooosh!
posted by Gelatin at 12:16 PM on November 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


Yes. And audio. Then you could hear it whooOOOOooosh! Imagine the doppler effect at 27,000mph.

Don't be stupid, it was 400 miles away, too far for sound.
posted by nomadicink at 12:17 PM on November 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


That's no meteor!
posted by stormpooper at 12:24 PM on November 4, 2010


My hat's off to the EXPXI project.

Editor: Please make that "EPOXI Project," kthxbai.
posted by Gelatin at 12:33 PM on November 4, 2010


DU: How have I not heard of Lifeforce before?

Ah, another soul corrupted. Soon my plan will be complete. Soon.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 12:41 PM on November 4, 2010


All kinds of awesome, especially the closest-approach pictures like this one. Indeed, space is the place.
posted by foonly at 12:43 PM on November 4, 2010



I love NASA. I hope the new nutty congress critters don't slash their budget.


Yep, this could all go away in the name of lowering some rich tea bagger's annual taxes enough to afford another Costco-sized bag of Cheetohs.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 12:53 PM on November 4, 2010


Pictures or it didn't ha --

Oh.
posted by unSane at 12:55 PM on November 4, 2010


Ew, it's like...all fuzzy and outgassing.
posted by drinkcoffee at 12:56 PM on November 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Suddenly, I crave a cannoli.
posted by Turkey Glue at 1:25 PM on November 4, 2010


I saw Lifeforce in the theater as a teenager without a girlfriend...would have gladly become a vampire, is all I'm saying.

The comet photos are beyond amazing.
posted by maxwelton at 1:26 PM on November 4, 2010


Some day I will read the Colin Wilson book...
posted by Artw at 2:03 PM on November 4, 2010


Ew, it's like...all fuzzy and outgassing.

I feel a certain kinship in that.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 2:39 PM on November 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


Mr C's buddies built that! Much celebratory sleep now happening in Pasadena.
posted by cyndigo at 2:55 PM on November 4, 2010


How have I not heard of Lifeforce before? This must be the basis for the "space vampires" jokes through the 80s and 90s (I'm thinking mainly of Calvin and Hobbes here). And it features Patrick Stewart?

As long as you're channeling your inner 14-year-old, you should know that as an added bonus one of the space vampires is totally a chick, and she spends the entire movie walking around bare-ass nekkid.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 4:07 PM on November 4, 2010


It would make for a great nights viewing in a trilogy with Manitou and The Keep.
posted by Artw at 4:08 PM on November 4, 2010


Also, why would a space vampire need clothes? It's totally logical.
posted by Artw at 4:09 PM on November 4, 2010


"Why didn't they put a laser cannon on the craft so they could shoot at it"?

Because if they do it would split into two rocks, and then they would have to split those into four rocks. But they could just shoot those four and they'd disappear.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 5:17 PM on November 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


It is shaped like a peanut.

But look at the two ends of it. They look the same, all pitted.

That means the ends have old surfaces which have had time to get pitted out there in the cloud where there's lots of junk to run into.

Now look at the middle. Totally smooth and pristine.

Must be new, produced since the comet came into the inner solar system where there's much less stuff to run into.

The comet looks like it's being pulled in two with new surface in the middle like you'd get if you took a piece of bubble gum out of your mouth and pulled on the ends, but not enough to pull it in two.

Now look at the gas jets coming out of it. They are coming off in almost perfectly opposed directions.

That must be what's causing it to pull apart that way, by causing it to spin more and more rapidly.

But it's totally solid and frozen, isn't it? How could it possibly be elastic enough to pull apart that way instead of fracturing and flying apart into two or more pieces?

Is it something that happened when it was closer to the Sun (I haven't seen yet whether it's heading in or out) or is it some weird effect of sunlight and solar radiation on ice?
posted by jamjam at 5:26 PM on November 4, 2010


jamjam, I'm sure it didn't pull apart like taffy. What probably happened is it has not natural spin, and has made multiple passes past Sol. If it has no inherent spin to overcome this tendency, tidal forces will make an elongated object orient itself pointing at the object it's swinging past. In swinging past the Sun it picks up a bit of rotational momentum but not enough that it doesn't re-orient the next time.

So the ends bear the brunt of its journey through space, and the middle is shielded from a lot of impacts even though "exposed."
posted by localroger at 6:26 PM on November 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Take a look at the picture accompanying the Wikipedia article, localroger, the sharpness of the lines of demarcation between middle and ends make arrant nonsense of any kind of "shielding" argument, not to mention that it would take something like a close orbit around a neutron star to produce a gravitational gradient sufficiently steep to lock a solid object only a third of a mile in diameter in the face of forces exerted by jets of outgassing, if even that would do it (and the long axis would be tangent to the orbit in case of a lock, not perpendicular).

And Hartley 2 isn't locked to anything, of course; it's spinning about one and a third times per Earth day.

It is on its way out, having reached perihelion on Oct. 28th.
posted by jamjam at 9:31 PM on November 4, 2010


Metafilter: Ew, it's like...all fuzzy and outgassing.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:54 AM on November 5, 2010


Ice is weird stuff; a good start would be to find out which of the phases of ice are represented here as some can indeed be plastic to a degree. If the rock fragments are denser then it doesn't seem unreasonable that they would migrate outward, or that over the millennia it would tend to stretch into a shape like this as it rotates.
posted by nonlocal at 10:54 AM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Fallen
posted by homunculus at 1:46 PM on November 5, 2010


Disk galaxy.
posted by morganannie at 12:48 PM on November 9, 2010


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