The Deep Impact mission was implemented to provide a glimpse beneath the surface of a comet, where material from the solar system’s formation remains relatively unchanged. Mission scientists hoped the project would answer basic questions about how the solar system formed, by providing an in-depth picture of the nature and composition of the frozen celestial travelers known as comets. The University of Maryland is responsible for overall Deep Impact mission science, and project management is handled by JPL. The spacecraft was built for NASA by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corporation, Boulder, Colorado.
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 mother ship. 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).
The flash created by the impact was just one of the visual surprises that confronted the Deep Impact team. Preliminary assessment of the images and data downlinked from the flyby spacecraft have provided an amazing glimpse into the life of a comet. At a news conference held later on July 4, Deep Impact team members displayed a movie depicting the final moments of the impactor’s life. The final image from the impactor was transmitted from the short-lived probe three seconds before it met its fiery end.
The Deep Impact scientists are not the only ones taking a close look at their collected data. The mission’s flight controller team is analyzing the impactor’s final hours of flight. When the real-time telemetry came in after the impactor’s first rocket firing, it showed the impactor moving away from the comet’s path.