Comet Apophis flew to within 9 million miles of the Earth yesterday. In 2029 it will come around again and get within 20,000 miles (closer than geosynchronous satellites). Then in 2036 it will approach again. At one time it was thought that it had a 3.5% chance flying through a specific keyhole of space in 2029, which would indicate that it would hit the Earth in 2036. But now the odds are calculated to be infinitesimal. Let's hope the astronomer assumptions are correct about that pesky Yarkovsky Effect. [more inside]
Dr. David Morrison is the senior scientist at NASA's Astrobiology Institute in the Ames Research Center in California. For the past eight years he's also run the Ask an Astrobiologist feature on the institute's website. "Started by a civic-minded intern, the column has become the go-to place for concerned citizens to write to NASA and ask if, as they'd heard on the internet, the world will truly end on December 21, 2012. Before he took the helm on Ask an Astrobiologist, Dr. Morrison hadn't heard anything about such theories. Now he can't escape them." Meet NASA's unofficial answerer of apocalypse emails -- at least until December 23rd. [more inside]
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.
In 2004, the Stardust mission passed through the tail of comet 81P/Wild (aka Wild 2); in 2006, that captured comet dust was returned to Earth. Now, researchers have found glycine, one of the amino acids in proteins, in that cometary material. [more inside]
Have you ever wondered what a solar eclipse would look like from space? The STEREO (Solar TErrestrial RElations Observatory) has just sent back its view (awe-inspiring video included). It has also sent back some gorgeous pictures of our sun (and the McNaught Comet). For more media, check out the other galleries (including some 3D images). For more about the project, see NASA's STEREO homepage. Be sure to also stop by the Johns Hopkins University STEREO Page, where you can download a mission guide (pdf), view animations, watch a video of the launch, or even make your own papercraft STEREO model (pdf). You can also learn more in six minute segments with their series of short educational videos.
Stardust@home. The Stardust spacecraft (discussed recently here) should land in Utah early Saturday, carrying in its hold a sprinkling of grains of interstellar dust. Researchers are seeking the public's help in pinpointing the submicroscopic bits of dust. Participants will sift through the hundreds of thousands of pictures of the roughly square-foot collector plate.
This weekend, NASA will order the Stardust spacecraft to jettison its 100-pound capsule that contains comet dust. The capsule will hurdle through earth’s atmosphere and make a soft landing in the Utah desert. Not directly connected to last summer’s Deep Impact, Stardust’s mission is to bring comet debris back to earth for study. Here’s hoping we don’t need the Wildfire lab.
THWACK! (NASA TV Live feed) This is just a heads up, only about 80 minutes until Deep Impact (NASA mission page) slams into comet Tempel 1. Recent discussion here.
What are you doing for July 4th? I just found out I'll be working. Our spacecraft Swift is going to be observing comet Tempel1 at the time of the Deep Impact encounter. (Previous discussed here on MeFi 2 years ago.) We'll probably have images and movies first, but the first images you'll see after the encounter will likely come from either JPL or Hubble. You can't have Penn State scooping NASA. Oh well, at least we will have a barbecue at work to celebrate. Our acting Mission Director during this time is a great bloke from MSSL. It is oddly appropriate to be celebrating the Fourth with a person from the UK.
Close-up images of comet Wild 2 were taken by the Stardust spacecraft on Jan. 2, and NASA released 2 of them this week. The spacecraft flew within 149 miles of the comet, 242 million miles from Earth. Stardust has been overshadowed by the Mars Exploration Rover, but I find it just as impressive, if not even more so. Now I'm looking forward to the Cassini-Huygens spacecraft, which will reach Saturn on July 1.
Deep impact. NASA scientists want to know what the pristine inside of a comet looks like. What better way, then, than by blowing a 25-meter crater in one? Comet Tempel 1, to be specific. Even better, send them your name and they'll put it on a disc attached to the impactor spacecraft, which will be launched on December 30, 2004. It'll hit on the 4th of July, 2005.