Hawaii's connection to the NASA Deep Impact Mission

University of Hawaiʻi
Posted: Jun 13, 2005

People in Hawaii will have the opportunity to witness a unique celestial event on the evening of July 3. At about 7:52 p.m. HST, Comet Tempel 1 will collide with the impactor from the Deep Impact spacecraft.

Hawaii is one of the few parts of the world where it may be possible to view this event as it happens. Before the impact, the comet will be too faint to see without a telescope or good binoculars, but it will be near two bright objects, the star Spica and the planet Jupiter. Astronomers anticipate that the impact may be visible to the naked eye; the impact itself should produce a brief flash while the ejected material should remain illuminated by the sun for hours or even days. But this is an experiment, and no one can accurately predict what we will see.

There will be public events in Honolulu, Hilo, Waimea and on Maui for those who wish to learn more about and participate in this event along with experienced astronomers.

Observatories in Hawaii will play key roles in this mission. In fact, NASA scheduled the impact so that it could be optimally observed from Mauna Kea. The telescopes on Mauna Kea will be focused on the event before, during and after impact. They will observe the comet with CCD cameras and spectrographs at a variety of optical, infrared and submillimeter wavelengths. On Haleakala, the Advanced Electro-Optical System (AEOS) Telescope and the Faulkes Telescope will also be observing.

IfA astronomer Karen Meech, a member of the Deep Impact Science Team, has played two key roles for this mission: She has studied the comet intensively since 1997 to learn more about its orbit, size and shape, information needed to target the spacecraft correctly, and she has also been responsible for coordinating the worldwide Earth-based observations, including those on Mauna Kea. She will be on Mauna Kea during the impact.

NASA launched Deep Impact from Cape Canaveral in January. The spacecraft consists of two parts, a larger "flyby" spacecraft and a smaller "impactor" spacecraft. The two will remain connected until 24 hours before impact, when the impactor will be released into the orbital path of the comet. The flyby spacecraft will then divert to a new path to safely collect images of the comet‘s approach, impact and aftermath, and send them back to Earth.

Comets are important because they are time capsules that hold clues to the formation and evolution of our solar system. They are made of ice, gas and dust—the primitive debris from the solar system‘s earliest and coldest period 4.5 billion years ago. Deep Impact is the first mission to explore a comet‘s interior—where the most unchanged materials are—by creating a crater that will let us look deep inside.

A press kit with more information will be mailed to media, and a press conference will be held on Friday, July 1, 2005, at 11:00 a.m. at the UH Institute for Astronomy headquarters, 2680 Woodlawn Drive, Honolulu.

For more information on the Deep Impact mission see:

The Institute for Astronomy at the University of Hawaii conducts research into galaxies, cosmology, stars, planets, and the sun. Its faculty and staff are also involved in astronomy education, deep space missions, and in the development and management of the observatories on Haleakala and Mauna Kea. Refer to http://www.ifa.hawaii.edu/ for more information about the Institute.

Established in 1907 and fully accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, the University of Hawaii is the state‘s sole public system of higher education. The UH System provides an array of undergraduate, graduate, and professional degrees and community programs on 10 campuses and through educational, training, and research centers across the state. UH enrolls more than 50,000 students from Hawaii, the U.S. mainland, and around the world. For more information, visit www.hawaii.edu.

For more information, visit: http://www.ifa.hawaii.edu