comet Tempel1Nasa’s used one of its craft to revisit a comet at close range for the first time in the history of space exploration. The vessel Stardust flew within 112 miles of the Tempel 1 comet as it hurtled past at 24,000 miles an hour at Feb 15, 4.37am.

comet Tempel1 2

Scientists confirmed the encounter, which took place 210million miles from Earth, had been a success 25 minutes later and that Stardust had taken 72 high-resolution pictures as planned.

It has now begun beaming back pictures taken during its fly-by. Nasa’s Chris Jones said all the images are stored on the craft and it will take another six hours for everything to be downloaded.

The photos will let researchers compare how Tempel 1 looks now with its appearance in 2005 when a probe from the Deep Impact craft was deliberated slammed into it.

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Stardust closed in at the comet closer than scientists had calculated – onboard instruments indicated that the craft was hit by several dust particles.

Since the craft’s antenna was pointed away from Earth during the encounter, it’ll take several hours for all the images and data to reach the ground.

Scientists plan to spend today sifting through the data to compare how the comet’s surface features have changed.

The hardest part was waiting to see ‘all the goodies that are stored on board’ Stardust, said principal investigator Joe Veverka, a professor of astronomy at Cornell University.

[dailymail] via [nasa]