Project Deep Impact

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The NASA Deep Impact mission which has exploded a probe into an orbiting comet has released a series of impressive images. The mission named after the 1998 film has again blurred the line between popular science and popular culture. Everyone seems excited and impressed but not that clear what its all about. The pop science site Red Nova’s report is headlined: “NASA cheers probes direct hit on comet”.

It sounded like science fiction – NASA scientists used a space probe to chase down a speeding comet 83 million miles away and slammed it into the frozen ball of dirty ice and debris in a mission to learn how the solar system was formed.

The unmanned probe of the Deep Impact mission collided with Tempel 1, a pickle-shaped comet half the size of Manhattan, late Sunday as thousands of people across the country fixed their eyes to the southwestern sky for a glimpse.

The impact at 10:52 p.m. PDT was cause for celebration not only to scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, but also for the more than 10,000 people camped out at Hawaii’s Waikiki Beach to watch it on a giant movie screen.

“It’s almost like one of those science fiction movies,” said Steve Lin, a Honolulu physician.

The cosmic smash-up did not significantly alter the comet’s orbit around the sun and NASA said the experiment does not pose any danger to Earth – unlike the scary comet headed for Earth in the 1998 movie, “Deep Impact.”

So much for the spectacle, and the science…

Rough images by the mothership that released the probe on its suicide mission 24 hours earlier showed a bright white flash from the comet upon impact, which hurled a cloud of debris into space. When the dust settles, scientists hope to peek inside the comet’s frozen core – a composite of ice and rock left over from the early solar system.

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