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A Valentine's Day Return to Comet Tempel 1

JPL Press Release

January 6, 2011 - PASADENA, Calif. -- On February 14, 2011, NASA's Stardust-NExT (New Exploration of Tempel 1) mission will encounter comet Tempel 1, providing a unique opportunity to measure the dust properties of two separate comets (Wild 2 and Tempel 1) with the same instrument for accurate data comparison. The encounter will also provide a comparison between two observations of a single comet, Tempel 1, taken before and after a single orbital pass around the sun.

    Artist rendering of Deep Impact and comet Tempel 1
    Deep Impact sent a 370-kg impactor into comet Tempel 1 in July 2005, but the resulting dust obscured its view of the newly formed crater.
Artist's impression: NASA/JPL/UMD/Pat Rawlings

NASA's Stardust spacecraft will fly within 200 kilometers (about 124 miles) of comet Tempel 1 on February 14, 2011, at about 8:36 p.m. Pacific Standard Time.

NASA's Deep Impact mission observed comet Tempel 1 in the summer of 2005, as the comet was inbound toward the Sun on its approximately 5.5-year orbit between Mars and Jupiter. Deep Impact's primary mission was to deliver a special impactor spacecraft into the path of comet Tempel 1. The spacecraft -- and many ground-based observers -- observed the impact and the ejected material. Scientists were surprised the cloud was composed of a fine, powdery material, not the expected water, ice, and dirt. The spacecraft did find the first evidence of surface ice on the surface of a comet instead of just inside a comet.

The Stardust-NExT mission is a low-cost use of an in-flight spacecraft redirected to a new target. Prior to its tasking for Tempel 1, the Stardust spacecraft successfully flew through the cloud of dust that surrounds the nucleus of comet Wild 2 in Jan. 2004. The particles of cometary material and gathered during this flyby were then returned to Earth aboard a sample return capsule which landed in the Utah desert in January 2006.

+ Press kit with key information will be posted soon

+ Background on comets

KEY DATES/TIMES (accurate as of 1/6/2011)
January 19, 11:00 am PST (2 pm EST):
Science Briefing on NASA TV (Project Manager Tim Larson, scientists Joe Veverka (Cornell University) and Peter Schultz (Brown University), engineer Steve Chesley)

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