When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. - Hunter S. Thompson

04 July 2005

Fireworks in space

A nice twist on the "fireworks on July 4th story," on what's ordinarily a very slow news day in the US--

NASA's Deep Impact cometary probe, despite having a name that sounds like a bad Jerry Bruckheimer movie, worked as designed today, launching a module headlong into the path of an oncoming comet, hitting it hard, making a big flash of light and throwing up a geyser of debris.

Take it to the bridge, NASA Public Relations:
The hyper-speed demise of NASA's Deep Impact probe generated an immense flash of light, which provided an excellent light source for the two cameras on the Deep Impact mothership. Deep Impact scientists theorize the 820-pound impactor vaporized deep below the comet's surface when the two collided at 1:52 am July 4, at a speed of about 10 kilometers per second (6.3 miles per second or 23,000 miles per hour).

"You can not help but get a big flash when objects meet at 23,000 miles per hour," said Deep Impact co-investigator Dr. Pete Schultz of Brown University, Providence, R.I. "The heat produced by impact was at least several thousand degrees Kelvin and at that extreme temperature just about any material begins to glow. Essentially, we generated our own incandescent photo flash for less than a second."
Man. Writing their press releases must be one of the best gigs in the world. And you've got to love the sense of theater on the part of the mission planners, who timed this thing to the second to occur in the wee hours of July 4th.

Lots of nifty photos at NASA's Deep Impact site.

Update: Okay, okay, so it wasn't a Bruckheimer movie. It should've been, though.

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