Boulder-Built NASA Probe Closes In on a Strange Space Cucumber

November 1 2010, 3:00 PM

Viewing the comet Hartly 2, as observed from Earth via radar, is like looking at a "six-inch spinning cucumber," NASA scientist Jon Giorgini tells MSNBC. The icy comet hurtling through space at 23 miles per second has also been described as bowling-pin-shaped, only 14,000 times larger, making it an interesting subject for the Boulder-built probe Deep Impact, which will fly by Hartley 2 on November 4.

The mission is a second life for the probe, which five years ago successfully shot an 820-pound copper "bullet" at another comet, Tempel 1, filming the impact. After that, Deep Impact was still in good condition, mission manager Tim Larson tells Boulder's Daily Camera: "NASA approved a new mission for the project, which allows us to embark on a new effort that will give us the most extensive observation of a comet to date." Deep Impact, armed with two cameras ready to snap thousands of images, will fly within 700 kilometers of Hartley 2, marking just the fifth time a spacecraft has flown near the nucleus of a comet.