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Last Updated: Thursday, 28 April, 2005, 09:45 GMT 10:45 UK
Chase is on for comet spacecraft
Comet Tempel 1 (Nasa)
Comet Tempel 1 viewed on 25 April
The American Deep Impact spacecraft has caught first sight of its quarry.

The probe has returned an image of Comet Tempel 1, taken from a distance of 64 million km (40 million miles).

The observation will help Deep Impact's navigators, engineers and scientists as they tweak its flight path for a close rendezvous on 4 July.

The probe will eject a 372kg impactor into the path of the comet to blast a deep hole in it - to learn more about how these objects are put together.

Comets are the "undercooked leftovers" that remained when a sprawling cloud of dust and gas condensed to form the Sun and planets 4.6 billion years ago.

Deep Impact, Pat Rawlings
Deep Impact will punch a crater in Comet Tempel 1
Scientists hope the mission will answer basic questions about how the Solar System came to be, by offering a better look at the nature and composition of these frozen balls of ice, dust and rock.

"It is great to get a first glimpse [of] the comet from our spacecraft," said Deep Impact Principal Investigator Dr Michael A'Hearn, of the University of Maryland, US.

"With daily observations beginning in May, Tempel 1 will become noticeably more impressive as we continue to close the gap between spacecraft and comet.

"What is now little more than a few pixels across will evolve by 4 July into the best, most detailed images of a comet ever taken."


Comet mission's images are blurry
29 Mar 05 |  Science/Nature
Comet probe Deep Impact launches
12 Jan 05 |  Science/Nature
Comet mission set for 2005 launch
15 Dec 04 |  Science/Nature
Probe to 'look inside' asteroids
26 Jul 04 |  Science/Nature
Nasa to crash probe into comet
27 May 01 |  Science/Nature

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