POSTED 28 JULY 2005
Love those leftovers
Reach deep into your fridge. Past the green cottage cheese and the bunch of blackened radishes. Yes, grab that formless lump inside the crinkly tin foil! What exactly is it? Half Ma's meatloaf and half seventh-grade science experiment, those are leftovers -- the bites and bits that didn't rate as Dinner, but might pass as Tomorrow's Lunch.
Leftovers. Everybody got 'em. But what to do with 'em? NASA says whack them hard and watch what happens next. That's the mission of Deep Impact, which just sent a daughter spacecraft into impact-oblivion against comet Tempel 1.
All images on this page from NASA/JPL-Caltech/UMD
In an analogy we will reheat and reuse ad nauseum, comets are the leftovers of the cosmos, the tin-foil-wrapped crud from the back shelves of the solar system.
In peeling back the tin foil from a common comet, Deep Impact is part of an effort to answer common comet questions:
- What are the basic properties of the comet's nucleus, especially mass and density?
- How does a comet change through time, especially when it gets a suntan?
- When two comets collide, do they form one big comet, or just blast each other to smithereens?
- Can we change a comet's course? (Like, could we nudge one off-course to prevent a catastrophic collision with Earth?)
Tempel 1 is clearly not the only comet in space. What have we learned from three other close encounters with cosmic leftovers?
Megan Anderson, author; Terry Devitt, editor; S.V. Medaris, designer/illustrator; David Tenenbaum, feature writer; Amy Toburen, content development executive