Stardust flies past Tempel-1 comet!

The close approach pictures are coming back from yesterday’s flyby of the Tempel 1 comet by the Stardust spacecraft! Tempel 1 was last visited in 2005 by the Deep Impact mission, which you may recall launched a projectile that smashed into the comet. Unfortunately the impact flash was so bright that Deep Impact couldn’t actually image the crater made by the impact, but now we’ve got an opportunity to see the scar again (if it’s still visible).

Apparently everything went well and the flyby went according to plan, so Stardust’s final mission was a success! The images are being uploaded here: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/stardust/ – the latest ones are at the top of the page. Here’s the latest one that’s been released at the time of writing (cropped and rotated by Emily Lakdawalla at The Planetary Society):

High resolution view of comet Tempel 1 on February 15, 2011 at 04:38 UTC, just before its close flyby. Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell/Emily Lakdawalla

It looks like the Deep Impact site was somewhere directly between the two dark-rimmed craters in the middle of this view of the comet – no sign of the impact scar yet, but I guess it’s possible that it could have been filled in by surface activity? I guess we’ll find out later today as the higher resolution images arrive, so stay tuned!

EDIT: Closest approach and departure pics are up now! Also, apparently the Deep Impact site is visible in the images sent back by Stardust, but they haven’t released the photo showing that yet.

I’m not sure if this is THE closest approach pic, but it’s the one where the comet is biggest in the image sequence so it must be close to it! Stardust is passing the comet at this point, the Deep Impact site and those two dark-rimmed craters from the first image are off to the centre-right now.http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/stardust/index.php?fileID=6098

Closest approach image of comet Tempel 1 on February 15, 2011.
Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell

Here’s a departure image, taken as Stardust receded from Tempel 1 after closest approach. You can see the other side of the comet here.

Departure image of comet Tempel 1 on February 15, 2011.
Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell

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