It looks like you're using an Ad Blocker.
Please white-list or disable AboveTopSecret.com in your ad-blocking tool.
Some features of ATS will be disabled while you continue to use an ad-blocker.
A comet targeted for a flyby with NASA's Deep Impact spacecraft cannot be found, forcing mission planners to send the probe to a different comet. The comet may have evaded telescopes simply because its predicted orbit was incorrect, or, more intriguingly, it might have disintegrated completely.
The Deep Impact spacecraft completed its main mission in 2005, when it slammed a metal impactor into comet Tempel 1 and watched the debris fly. After the successful encounter with Tempel 1, the mission team had hoped to carry out a second rendezvous, this time with a comet called 85P/Boethin, in late 2008.
It is possible that the comet was destroyed during the 1997 Sun encounter, disintegrating from the Sun's heat.... But comet Boethin never comes closer to the Sun than just beyond Earth's orbit, making it unlikely to have disintegrated.... A somewhat more likely possibility is that the comet broke into a few large chunks that are still intact but have drifted too far from the original comet's orbit to have been spotted in searches to date... the most likely explanation of all is that telescopes have simply been searching in the wrong place...
The Deep Impact probe zipped past Earth Monday, the first of three flybys designed to use the planet's gravity to hurtle the spacecraft toward comet Hartley 2 for a 2010 meeting.
The new mission, known as Epoxi, calls for Deep Impact to travel 1.6 billion miles to reach Hartley 2, which will be about 12 million miles from Earth at the time of the encounter. Deep Impact will hover 550 miles from the half mile-wide surface and use its two telescopes and infrared spectrometer to map features and record gas outbursts.
On its way to the comet, Deep Impact will spend six months using one of its telescopes to search for Earth-sized planets around five nearby stars, which are known to have Jupiter-like planets orbiting them.
Deep Impact's high-resolution camera has a flaw that keeps it slightly out of focus. This was a liability for the spacecraft's original mission to study the crater produced on comet Tempel 1 by an impactor probe. But it would actually be a benefit for observing planets passing in front of – or transiting – their parent stars, Deming says.
That is because a poorly focused star spreads its light out over more pixels in the camera's light detector, which makes the data less noisy and allows for subtler brightness variations to be measured, he says. "We convert that focus flaw into an asset," Deming told New Scientist.