THE COMET CRASH OF 2005!

At O650 BST on Monday 4 July part of NASA's Deep Impact spacecraft will crash into Comet Tempel 1. Since no one knows exactly what will happen next, ground based telescopes around the world (including UK assets) will be observing the comet before and after the encounter to see what changes occur. Scientists hope it will make a crater in the comet somewhere between the size of a house and the size of a football field. This will let us find out exactly what is inside a comet. Astronomers around the world will be watching anxiously to see what they can learn from this giant experiment in space!

The Royal Observatory Edinburgh is holding two events to celebrate the mission:

6:15 - 7:30 am Watch the Collision Live

An audience of children and their parents, alongside observatory staff, will be watching the events unfold through a remote connection to the Faulkes Telescope.

The 2-metre robotic Faulkes Telescope in Hawaii is part of a global network of telescopes that are providing data to NASA. However, NASA will not be the only recipient of the images. We will be receiving images of the encounter directly from Hawaii in near real time, giving us the earliest data in the country.

There is no charge for this event but you must book in advance on 0131 668 8404 or email vis@roe.ac.uk.

The media are welcome to come along for photographs or interviews from 6:15 am

2:00 - 4:00 pm Deep Impact on Independence Day Family Workshop

If 6:50am is too early, the Royal Observatory Visitor Centre will be running a family workshop later in the day. Watch us make a comet in front of your eyes and make your very own deep impact probe.

For the whole family
9 family, 3.50 adults, 2.50 children
Booking required on 0131 668 8404 or email vis@roe.ac.uk

Other UK events:

Across the UK schoolchildren will have the opportunity to see the images as events in space unfold via the Faulkes Telescope, and will process the raw data to detect any changes to the comet as they happen. In Wales the Spaceguard Centre near Knighton is hosting groups from Welsh schools, while Thinktank in Birmingham will be the English centre. In Northern Ireland the centre of activity will be the Armagh Planetarium in association with the Ulster Museum, Belfast. This will be a truly national event.

There will be opportunities for photographs and interviews at each centre, and links between them can be established.


Images and Further information

Illustration of Deep Impact and Comet Tempel 1

Science images and artist's impressions of Comet Tempel 1 and the Deep Impact Probe are available from NASA.


Messages to the students from the NASA Deep Impact team:

Professor Michael F. A'Hearn, Principal Investigator, Deep Impact project.

"I hope that those of you studying the images of comet Tempel 1 will appreciate both the excitement of doing large-scale experiments in space and also the hard work necessary to bring these experiments into being. You will be directly experiencing the excitement and the hard work that goes into the analysis of the images from the Faulkes telescope, and this exemplifies what is needed in whatever career path you choose. You have to get interested in your career and you have to work hard at it."

Dr. Donald K. Yeomans, Manager, NASA Near Earth Object Program Office.

"Comets and asteroids represent the remnants of the early solar system formation process that took place some 4600 million years ago.

While comets and asteroids are among the smallest bodies within our solar system, they have been instrumental in delivering to the early Earth the raw materials for life. We are all made of cometary stuff. Once life was established on Earth, collisions of comets and asteroids helped govern the evolutionary cycles that allowed the human race to emerge as the dominant species on Earth. We owe our very existence, and our place atop the Earth's food chain, to these so-called Near-Earth Objects. In terms of their importance to life on Earth, the critical nature of the diminutive comets and asteroids is in no way proportional to their sizes. Next to the Sun itself, theirs is the most important realm.

Space missions are necessary to characterize the nature of comets and asteroids and to determine their elemental compositions so that the richest resources and the most worrisome threats can be singled out well ahead of time. You are part of such a mission!"


Contact Details:

Jenny Dockett
Royal Observatory Edinburgh, Blackford Hill, Edinburgh, EH9 3HJ
Tel: 0131 6688263 or 07968 303831
E-mail: jd@roe.ac.uk

Jay Tate
The Spaceguard Centre, Llanshay Lane, Knighton, LD7 1LW
Tel: 01547 520247
E-mail: mail@spaceguarduk.com

Robert Hill
Armagh Planetarium, College Hill, Armagh, BT61 9DB, Northern Ireland
Tel: 028 3752 3689
E-mail: info@armaghplanet.com

Mario Di Maggio
Thinktank, Millennium Point, Curzon Street, Birmingham, B4 7XG
Tel: 0121 202 2222

Paul Roche
Faulkes Telescope Operations Centre, School of Physics and Astronomy, Cardiff University, 5 The Parade, Cardiff, CF24 3YB
Tel: 029 2087 5151
E-mail: paul.roche@faulkes-telescope.com


Notes for Editors:

PPARC Deep Impact Press Notice

Comet Tempel 1

Comet 9P/Tempel 1 was discovered on April 3, 1867 by Ernst Wilhelm Leberecht Tempel of Marseilles France while visually searching for comets.

Currently, Tempel 1 has an orbital period of 5.5 years and a perihelion distance of roughly 1.5 AUs. With an orbital eccentricity of 0.5, Tempel 1's orbit lies between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. These values varied in the past and will change in the future because of close approaches with the planet Jupiter. While we can calculate the orbital parameters, determining the size and shape of the nucleus has been difficult because we can't see the nucleus. However, based on a variety of observations, we believe the nucleus is very roughly 6km in diameter and that it is somewhat elongated rather than a sphere. In fact, we've only seen the nuclei for three comets -- Halley, Borrelly, and Wild 2. In July 2005, we hope to add to this small collection with a very detailed view of the nucleus of Tempel 1!

The impact will not modify the comet's orbital path in any great way, and the comet will continue to pose no threat to the Earth in the foreseeable future.

Deep Impact

Objectives: To study the pristine interior of a comet.
Principal Investigator: Dr. Michael A'Hearn, University of Maryland
Start Date: 1 Nov 1999
Launch Date: 12 Jan 2005
Mission Events: Encounter date 0600 4 July 2005 UT (0700 BST)
  Impactor separation at 24 hrs prior to impact
  Impactor approach velocity: 10.2 km/s
  Flyby S/C closest approach: 500 km
End of Mission: Data return until Aug 2005 (28 days)
End of Project Date: Mar 2006 (includes 9 months of data analysis)
Launch Mass: 1020 kg
Impactor Mass: 370 kg (composed mainly of copper, an element not found in comets).

Faulkes Telescope Project

The Faulkes Telescope Project aims to inspire pupils in science, technology and maths by giving them access to some of the most exciting and inspirational astronomical instruments available for use in the classroom.

The two Faulkes Telescopes are fully robotic, research standard, 2-metre class instruments operated over the Internet. One is located on Maui, Hawaii (Faulkes Telescope North) and the other is located in Siding Spring, Australia (Faulkes Telescope South). Each telescope stands 8 metres tall and has a 2-metre diameter primary mirror. The location of the telescopes, half a world away, enables the night sky in both the northern and southern hemispheres to be observed during the British school day.

The twin telescopes are located in prime astronomical observing areas close to some of the world's most powerful professional telescopes. Web cams show the telescopes being moved in real-time to focus on a selected object and the resulting images are returned to schools in a matter of minutes. Schools simply book their timeslot, plan the work they want to carry out and take control of the telescope.

Concerned by the declining interest in science and maths, philanthropist Dill Faulkes, who attributes his own business success to the state education he received in these subjects, has funded the construction of the two state-of-the-art robotic telescopes for use by schools. The project is providing educational materials to help teachers plan the use of the telescope, both as part of the National Curriculum and beyond. There is also the opportunity to work with professional astronomers.