M A I N   N E W S

US probe hits comet
To unveil origin of solar system

Pasadena (California), July 4
A space probe, Deep Impact, hit its comet target early today in a NASA-directed, Hollywood-style mission that scientists hope will reveal clues to how the solar system formed.

It marked the first time a spacecraft had touched the surface of a comet and ignited a dazzling fireworks display in space.

The successful strike, 83 million miles (134 million km) away from earth, occurred just before 11.30 am, according to mission control at NASA’s jet propulsion laboratory in Pasadena, which is managing the $ 333 million mission.

Scientists at the mission control erupted in applause and hugged each other as the news of the impact spread.

It was a milestone for the US space agency, which hopes the experiment will answer basic questions about the origin of the solar system.

The cosmic smash-up did not significantly alter the comet’s orbit around the sun and NASA said the experiment does not pose any danger to earth.

An image by the mothership showed a bright spot in the lower section of the comet where the collision occurred that hurled a cloud of debris into space. When the dust settles, scientists hope to peek inside the comet’s frozen core - a composite of ice and rock left over from the early solar system.

“We hit it just exactly where we wanted to,” co-investigator Don Yeomans said.

More than 10,000 persons packed Hawaii’s Waikiki Beach to see the impact on a giant movie screen.

After its release, the battery-powered probe tumbled in free flight toward the comet and flew on its own without human help during the critical two hours before the crash, firing its thrusters to get the perfect aim of the comet nucleus.

Along the way, as the comet closed in, the copper probe took close-up pictures of the icy celestial body at a rapid speed until its destruction. The carefully orchestrated crash gave off energy equivalent to exploding nearly 5 tonnes of dynamite. — AP


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