Scientists say a NASA spacecraft took photographs of a comet from a distance of only 700 kilometers Thursday, immediately yielding new details about that comet. Scientists say even the initial images sent back to Earth are full of great data, and now they must figure out what all the details and data mean.
The Hartley 2 comet was close enough to NASA's Deep Impact spacecraft to give scientists the best extended view of any comet in history. The spacecraft used two telescopes with digital color cameras and an infrared spectrometer to gather detailed information as it flew past the icy, dusty comet.
Scientists say five initial images from the flyby yielded new details about the comet's volume and the gas and dust that spew from its surface, Voice of America reports.
Scientists hope the flyby will help them better understand how comets differ. Comets are icy bodies left over from the formation of the solar system some 4.5 billion years ago. Studying them could provide clues to how Earth and the planets formed and evolved.
"We're going to see pictures of a world we've never seen before - plain and simple," said mission scientist Jessica Sunshine of the University of Maryland, according to TMCnet.