Comet on camera: first close-up of an icy young dwarf
18:01 4 November 2010
Picture of the day
Cian O'Luanaigh, reporter
This is the first ever close-up picture of comet Hartley 2. It was taken by the Medium-Resolution Instrument onboard NASA's Deep Impact space probe as it flew past the comet's icy nucleus at 7am Pacific Daylight Time today.
The probe transmitted several pictures, which were taken at a distance of 700 kilometres from the comet, back 37 million kilometres to NASA's Deep Space Network antennas in Goldstone, California.
Hartley 2 was discovered in 1986 at the Schmidt Telescope Unit in Siding Spring, Australia, and can be seen from Earth every six years. This young dwarf comet has a nucleus only 1.5 kilometres across.
Deep Impact photographed Comet Tempel 1 in 2005, and its orbit was adjusted for today's Hartley 2 flyby as part of the EPOXI dual mission to investigate extrasolar stars and comets.
It is the fifth time in history a spacecraft has visited a comet nucleus.