In a brilliant explosion, Deep Impact’s impactor spacecraft smashed into Comet Tempel 1 around 10:52 p.m. Pacific Standard Time today. The control room at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Californa, USA went crazy with gasps, shouts and applause as the first images showing the impact appeared on their projector screen. The image taken by the flyby spacecraft (sailing by a safe distance from the comet) was right out of a science fiction movie, but with better special effects, showing a prominent plume of material erupting from the surface of the comet.
Just prior to impact, the impactor spacecraft itself sent back images of the comet rapidly filling its view. Comet Tempel 1 appears to have several shallow craters that may be caused by natural impacts or by active processes within the comet itself. Scientists are scrambling to analyze the wealth of date returned so far.
The flyby spacecraft is currently in shield mode, placing a shield between itself and the dangerous particles in the coma of the comet as it continues to take images of the impact area. Scientists are eager to pour over images of the crater formed by the impact, in hopes of learning about the internal structure and composition of Tempel 1. The data could provide clues about the formation of our solar system and other important questions. Did comets bring water to the inner planets? Are they the source of organic building blocks that eventually led to life on the Earth?
So far the comet remains too faint to see with the naked eye from the Earth. However, observatories around the world are expected to return images of a rapid brightening of the comet during impact. Please stay tuned to The Frontier Channel for first images as NASA releases them to the public (a barrage of visitors is currently slamming their web servers.)