NASA comet fly-by yields rare images from deep space


CAPE CANAVERAL — A NASA spacecraft made a successful fly-by Thursday of the Hartley 2 comet and within minutes began sending to Earth arresting images taken as the enormous space rock hurtled along the outer fringes of the solar system.

“The mission team and scientists have worked hard for this day,” said Tim Larson, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, which is monitoring the mission that saw the EPOXI probe fly billions of miles to capture images of the comet.

“It’s good to see Hartley 2 up close,” Larson said.

The EPOXI — its full name is Extrasolar Planet Observation and Deep Impact Extended Investigation — reached the Hartley 2 after a 2.5-year journey across the solar system, a distance of some 4.6 billion kilometers (2.9 billion miles).

The EPOXI mission flew within about 435 miles (700 kilometers) of the comet at about 10 am (1400 GMT) Thursday and about an hour later began sending back its never-before-seen computer images.

“We are all holding our breath to see what discoveries await us in the observations near closest approach,” said EPOXI principal investigator Michael A’Hearn of the University of Maryland, College Park, which is also tracking the course of the comet.

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