The NASA EPOXI Mission Deep Impact spacecraft is set to pass within a couple of hundred miles of comet Hartley 2. As the Deep Impact spacecraft floats past the meteor at 43,000 KM per hour it will take images of the comet using two telescopes. These telescopes have a digital camera and infrared spectrometer.
Hartley 2 has the smallest nucleus of any of the other comets that NASA has observed with close flybys. With the data collected from the Hartley 2 comet, NASA scientists hope to gain a better understanding of how the early solar system formed. Comets are thought to be left over debris from when the solar system first formed.
The Hartley 2 Comet orbits around the solar system about every six and a half years. It discovered recently, in 1986, by scientists using the Schmidt Telescope. The Hartley 2 Comet nucleus measures abut 1KM across and is made of rock and ice. The comet loses some of its mass each time it makes a pass near the sun, as ice melts and matter is peeled away. The Hartley 2 Comet is expected to make another 100 orbits around the solar system, and will eventually break up.
The Deep Impact Space Mission was launched January 12, 2005 with plans to study the comet 9P/Tempel. In July 2005, the spacecraft launched an “impactor” that crashed into the surface of 9P/Tempel. The resultant collision caused a bright cloud to form around the comet. Subsequent images showed that the comet was primarily made up of primarily dust and ice. However, there was not as much ice in the composition of comet 9P/Tempel as previously thought.
After the collision with 9P/Tempel, NASA scientists sent Deep Impact on an extended mission to tour the rest of the solar system. The Deep Impact Mission name has been switched to EPOXI (Extrasolar Planet Observation and Deep Impact Extended Investigation).
The spacecraft changed course, and used the Earth’s gravity to sling itself toward the Comet Hartley 2. After the EPOXI mission made the flyby of the Hartley 2 Comet, the spacecraft will continue to make observation of extra-solar planets, as well as point its own cameras back toward Earth. Since the craft will be so far from Earth, scientist hope to study the properties of light gathered from picture taken of Earth, and compare the images with those of extra-solar planets.
The flyby the Deep Impact Spacecraft will occur on November 4, 2010.
Source: NASA Website and Wikipedia.