The Deep Impact spacecraft flew past Comet Hartley-2 earlier today, and has started to return some dramatic pictures of the comet’s icy nucleus – it looks like a roughly 2 km long peanut, with jets of material erupting from the rougher ends that look like they’re covered with boulders, and a smooth central section that may be filled in by dust. It might even be a ‘contact binary’, consisting of two separate objects that are just barely touching eachother and are held in place by gravity (so the ‘neck’ is where dust has flowed into the region between the two objects). There are lots more images coming in (apparently a total of 120,000!) and the ones we’ve seen so far aren’t even the high resolution ones, so stay tuned! 🙂
Comet Hartley 2, Image courtesy NASA/JPl-Caltech
More info and pictures at : http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.cfm?release=2010-371
Emily Lakdawalla at the Planetary Society blog has also made a very cool approach/departure animation of the images that have been downloaded so far, showing the nucleus tumbling through space – it’s well worth checking out!