Seeing the crater produced by the Deep Impact mission’s violent encounter with Comet Tempel 1 on Monday – one of the mission’s key goals – could now be impossible. Check out these video clips.
The plume of gas and dust kicked up by the impact was much bigger, brighter and less transparent than expected. As a result, the crater itself, hidden behind the plume, will be very difficult to detect in the images taken by the flyby spacecraft.
But the science team has already figured out some indirect ways of determining the crater’s dimensions, if the optical images cannot provide enough information. In any case, any problem with getting data on the crater challenge is far outweighed by the wealth of information returned from the first-ever deliberate comet impact.
And the show may go on for a while yet. Measurements by the Hubble space telescope and other observatories show the comet continued to brighten – and its new plume of ejected material continued to expand – for at least several hours after the impact.
And if the impact exposed a lot of fresh, volatile material at the bottom of the crater, the growing plume “could go on for weeks”, according to the mission’s chief scientist, Mike A’Hearn, at mission control at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasedena, California, US