NASA’s EPOXI Has Close Encounter With Outer Space Snowstorm

NASA’s EPOXI Has Close Encounter With Outer Space Snowstorm - comet Hartley 2

NASA’s EPOXI Has Close Encounter With Outer Space Snowstorm. Pictured: comet Hartley 2.

NASA’s EPOXI spacecraft recently experienced a snowstorm created by the comet Hartley 2.  The encounter gave scientists the first clear images of the comet allowing them to link jets of gas and dust to specific features on the surface of the comet.

Carbon dioxide jets shooting golf ball to basketball-sized ice particles similar to snowflakes from the rough ends of the peanut-shaped comet powered the snowstorm.  At the same time, scientists found it interesting that the smoother mid-section of the comet was producing water vapor to escape from the comet.

In 2005, EPOXI released a device to impact a comet known as Temple 1.  Scientists have been analyzing the differences between Hartley 2 and Temple 1 since the new images became available and have been fascinated by the findings.  While the smooth section of Hartley 2 acts much like the surface of Temple 1, the rough outer edges and carbon dioxide jets are something scientists have never seen before.

While they are fascinated by the findings, scientists admit that much analysis is ahead before they know anything.  Further testing and analysis will allow researchers to determine how long the snowstorm has been active and whether the different activities found on the comet were result of its formation more than 4.5 billion years ago or are a more recent evolutionary change.

NASA’a Jet Propulsion Laboratory immediately began looking for signs of impact after the spacecraft flew through the storm.  So far, they have found nine times when particles from the snowstorm struck EPOXI, though all of the particles were less than the weight of a snowflake and caused no damage to the craft.


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