I have always been kind of a space geek since my pre-teenage years when I became interested in Astronomy. I dabbled in it for awhile but as you know, when the teenage years hit the only things that matter are girls, girls, and more girls.

But anyways….I was quite happy to hear that Deep Impact had succeeded on a huge part of its mission a little over 45 minutes ago.

For those of you who are not familiar with Deep Impact, it’s mission is to send a “impactor” at a high rate of speed into the comet Tempel 1, and then study the inner core that the impactor made visible with Deep Impact’s cameras and instruments.

The below picture was taken less then an hour ago showing the successful impact

This is a artists rendition of the separation of Deep Impact from the Impactor that occurred yesterday

One hundred and seventy-one days into its 172-day journey to comet Tempel 1, NASA’s Deep Impact spacecraft successfully released its impactor at 11:07 p.m. Saturday, Pacific Daylight Time (2:07 a.m. Sunday, Eastern Daylight Time).

At release, the impactor was about 880,000 kilometers (547,000 miles) away from its quarry. The separation of flyby spacecraft and the washing-machine-sized, copper-fortified impactor is one in a series of important mission milestones that will cap off with a planned encounter with the comet at 10:52 p.m. Sunday, PDT (1:52 a.m. on July 4, EDT).

There are pictures of the seconds before impact here.

PASADENA, Calif. – A space probe hit its comet target late Sunday 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 touched the surface of a comet, igniting a dazzling Independence Day weekend fireworks display in space.

The successful strike 83 million miles away from Earth occurred just before 11 p.m. PDT, according to mission control at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, which is managing the $333 million mission.

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

It was a milestone for the U.S. space agency, which hopes the experiment will answer basic questions about the origins 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 people packed Hawaii’s Waikiki Beach to see the impact on a giant movie screen.

“It’s almost like one of those science fiction movies,” said Steve Lin, a Honolulu physician as his 7-year old son, Robi, zipped around his beach blanket.

Scientists had compared the suicide journey to standing in the middle of the road and being hit by a semi-truck roaring at 23,000 mph. They expect the crater will be anywhere from the size of a large house to a football stadium and between two and 14 stories deep.

A day earlier, the Deep Impact spacecraft successfully released its barrel-sized “impactor” probe on a high-speed collision course with Tempel 1 ? a pickle-shaped comet half the size of Manhattan.

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.

A direct hit was a challenge because NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory no longer controlled the probe once it was released from the spacecraft. Even so, the odds favored success based on previous testing.

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

The mothership had a front-row seat to the comet strike 5,000 miles away. NASA’s fleet of space telescopes, including the Hubble Space Telescope, Chandra X-ray Observatory and Spitzer Space Telescope, and dozens of ground observatories also viewed the impact.

Soon after the probe’s crash on the comet’s sunlit side, the mothership prepared to approach Tempel 1 to peer into the crater site and send more data back to Earth. The spacecraft planned to fly within 310 miles of the comet before it activates its dust shields to protect itself from a blizzard of debris.

And finally NASA has a great overview of the mission here.

Congrats to NASA for a job well done.

UPDATE 7/4 1700hrs

NASA has posted some new pic’s like the below one that shows the impact

With this release from NASA:

The hyper-speed demise of NASA’s Deep Impact probe generated an immense flash of light, which provided an excellent light source for the two cameras on the Deep Impact mothership. Deep Impact scientists theorize the 820-pound impactor vaporized deep below the comet’s surface when the two collided at 1:52 am July 4, at a speed of about 10 kilometers per second (6.3 miles per second or 23,000 miles per hour).

“You can not help but get a big flash when objects meet at 23,000 miles per hour,” said Deep Impact co-investigator Dr. Pete Schultz of Brown University, Providence, R.I. “The heat produced by impact was at least several thousand degrees Kelvin and at that extreme temperature just about any material begins to glow. Essentially, we generated our own incandescent photo flash for less than a second.”

The flash created by the impact was just one of the visual surprises that confronted the Deep Impact team. Preliminary assessment of the images and data downlinked from the flyby spacecraft have provided an amazing glimpse into the life of a comet.

“They say a picture can speak a thousand words,” said Deep Impact Project Manager Rick Grammier of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. “But when you take a look at some of the ones we captured in the early morning hours of July 4, 2005 I think you can write a whole encyclopedia.”

At a news conference held later on July 4, Deep Impact team members displayed a movie depicting the final moments of the impactor’s life. The final image from the impactor was transmitted from the short-lived probe three seconds before it met its fiery end.

“The final image was taken from a distance of about 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) from the comet’s surface,” said Deep Impact Principal Investigator Dr. Michael A’Hearn of the University of Maryland, College Park. “From that close distance we can resolve features on the surface that are less than 4 meters (about 13 feet) across. When I signed on for this mission I wanted to get a close-up look at a comet, but this is ridiculous? in a great way.”

Plus they released a short movie of the impact here.

Which ends with this picture of the impact:

Amazing stuff.

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