XMM Optical Monitor images of Deep Impact
Credit: Dr. Rita Schulz; ESA

Fireworks on the Fourth of July

What's inside a comet? A very important question, since comets are the solar system's "deep freeze", containing the primordial, unaltered stuff out of which the planets, moons, and you, dear reader, were formed. How to get to that primordial stuff is another question. One way is to crash something into the comet, and watch what comes out. An incredible experiment like this was actually carried out on July 4, 2005, when the Deep Impact mission placed a small object in the path of a comet named Tempel-1. This object, or "impactor", was run over by the comet, and the powerful collision released a burst of gas and dust from deep within Tempel-1. This event was one of the most watched astronomical events of all time. The image above shows a time sequence of images taken by the Optical Monitor on the XMM-Newton satellite. The crash of the impactor occurred at 05:52UT, which can be seen as a tremendous brightening in the OM images.

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Page Author: Dr. Michael F. Corcoran
Last modified Friday, 20-Apr-2012 15:26:05 EDT

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