NASA today announced the end of operations for the Deep Impact spacecraft, history’s most traveled deep-space comet hunter, after trying unsuccessfully for more than a month to regain contact with the spacecraft.
UMD scientists – who helped conceive the mission, bring it to reality and keep it going years longer than originally planned – say it is a big loss, but find great satisfaction that Deep Impact exceeded all expectations and that the science derived from it transformed our understanding of comets.
“The impact on comet Tempel 1, the flyby of comet Hartley 2, and the remote sensing of comet Garradd have led to so many surprising results that there is a complete rethinking of our understanding of the formation of comets and of how they work.
These small, icy remnants of the formation of our solar system are much more varied, both one from another and even from one part to another of a single comet, than we had ever anticipated,” said University of Maryland astronomer Michael A’Hearn, who led the Deep Impact science team from the successful Deep Impact proposal to its unanticipated completion. …
I sometimes wonder about the possibility of life on a comet in our own solar system.