Entry for July 08, 2005

Planetary Society’s Comet Bash a smashing success

By Matthew Ota
Orange County Astronomers trustee

  Many OCA members attended the Planetary Society’s “Comet Bash” at Citrus College in Glendora on the evening of July 3, 2005.  This event was a celebration of the Deep Impact mission to Comet Temple 1.  Like previous celebrations, such as the Huygens probe of Titan and the Mars Rover landings, the society put on a grand show that all like-minded individuals enjoyed. The experience of such historic and momentous events in space exploration and discovery is best shared with other people, in contrast to just watching them in solitude behind a TV set or computer screen.

  The main event was a live feed from NASA TV of the mission control rooms of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. But before that main event there was a series of reports and lectures of interest to the audience.

  First came a status report on the Cosmos 1 solar sail project by Planetary Society Executive Director Louis Friedman. The bad news is that the probe is certainly lost; but the good news is that they will try again with a new spacecraft and an alternate launch vehicle.
  Dr. Friedman showed exclusive video of the launch vehicle assembly and loading, and dramatic footage of the launch from a ballistic missile submarine.
He then showed an orbital track on a world map, showing where the tracking stations picked up faint ambiguous signals.

  Next was a presentation on Near Earth Asteroid and Earth Impact by former NASA astronaut Rusty Schweikart.  Apollo-era space buffs remember him as call sign “Red Rover” on the Apollo 9 mission in March 1969. He tested the Lunar Module in earth orbit along with crewmates Jim McDivitt and David Scott. He was the first astronaut to test the moon suit during a short EVA.
  Today he heads the B612 Foundation, which advocates strong action in protecting the earth from near earth asteroid threats. He gave detailed information on the trajectory of asteroid 2004 MN4, which will come within geostationary satellite range on April 13, 2037.
  The goal of the foundation is to significantly alter the orbit of an asteroid in a controlled manner by 2015, using high impulse, low thrust electric rocket propulsion. Much more information is available on this proposal at the B613 URL: http://www.b612foundation.org/index.html.

  Bill Nye “The Science Guy” and Planetary Society Vice President, gave an entertaining presentation on comets. He started by taking a long drink of bottled water, and went into basic demonstrations of comet composition by using water, rocks and a geologist’s hammer. His humorous delivery kept the audience captivated, especially the younger members.

  After a short break was a presentation by Bruce Betts, Director of Projects of the Planetary society. He gave a basic explanation on the nature of comets, something already familiar to many OCA members. But the information was new to many members of the audience who were not around during the time of Comets Halley, Hyakutake and Hale-Bopp.

  Finally, Bill Smythe from JPL gave a mission scientist’s view on the Deep Impact Mission and its objectives. JPL has placed great emphasis on public outreach in recent years and it is great to see the scientists when they explain their work to the lay public.

  The large screen projected live images from NASA TV. This projection system was similar to the one we use at Hashinger Hall, but on a larger scale. Unfortunately, just as at Hashinger, the color range (gamut) was not as large as is seen on your regular computer monitor, so the images were somewhat degraded. However, a free unsecured wireless Internet connection was available and I took advantage of it by running my notebook PC to view the feed and images.

  There was so much Internet traffic going on, that it was difficult to log onto specific URLs such as NASA TV, the Deep Impact web pages and the live feed from Kitt Peak Observatory. I did manage to download one raw image showing the impact plume on the comet nucleus.

   I elected to leave at midnight due to fatigue. I had spent all of Saturday evening and Saturday morning at the Mount Wilson Observatory, repairing and calibrating my telescope. But this beautiful Independence Day morning brings a plethora of incredible images of the comet impact, and I along with many others eagerly await more science results from this exciting mission.

Here are the pertinent URLs to get more information and images from the Deep Impact mission:

Deep Impact home page: http://deepimpact.jpl.nasa.gov/home/index.html

NASA Deep Impact Image Viewer (raw images): http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/deepimpact/images/index.html

Deep Impact multimedia: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/deepimpact/multimedia/index.html

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~ by matthewota on July 8, 2005.

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