June 29, 2005
This Fourth of July, NASA will be sparking some fireworks of their own in outer space, hoping it'll make a deep impact.
It's the first time NASA has staged a crash, and their calling it the Deep Impact Mission. "The intent here is to have a probe which they can actually, essentially fire into a comet," says Charles Tolbert, a Professor of Astronomy at UVA.
Once the probe collides with the comet, NASA's spacecraft will have 13 minutes to take and send pictures before being destroyed by flying debris.
By studying comets, which are mixtures of ice, dust, and rock, scientists hope to unlock mysteries about the solar system. "The more we understand about that, the more we'll know about how the Earth formed and how it's possible for other planets and solar systems to form and so forth."
When NASA's probe collides with the comet on July 4th, experts say amateur astronomers on the Pacific Coast will be able to see the blast using normal size telescopes. "The material that is knocked out of the crater will be hit by sunlight, and cause the comet to look a lot brighter...and that's what people will see with their telescopes, if they're lucky"
Even though the collision will have enough force to take a chunk out of the comet, it's believed it will do so without disturbing the comet's orbital path around the sun.