Stardust NExT a smashing success

Tempel 1 from Stardust NExT

NASA's Stardust-NExT mission took this image of comet Tempel 1 at 8:39 p.m. PST on Feb 14, 2011, from a distance of approximately 185 kilometers (114.9 miles). The comet was first visited by NASA's Deep Impact mission in 2005. Photo credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell.

Stardust NExT flew by the comet Tempel 1 on Valentine’s Day, and investigators for the mission are labeling it a “100 percent success.” The mission met all of its goals, which included observing surface features that changed in areas previously seen during the 2005 Deep Impact mission, imaging new terrain, and viewing the crater generated when Deep Impact slammed an impactor into the comet.

Stardust NExT is the same craft that visited comet Wild 2 seven years ago and returned samples of comet dust to Earth. University of Washington astronomy Prof. Don Brownlee was the lead investigator on that mission, and a co-investigator on Stardust NExT. Brownlee said the spacecraft had a rocky approach to Tempel 1.

“The data indicate Stardust went through something similar to a B-17 bomber flying through flak in World War II,” he said. “Instead of having a little stream of uniform particles coming out, they apparently came out in chunks and crumbled.”

Alice’s Astro Info has a nice summary of Deep Impact and the two Stardust missions.