AAO Telescopes to watch Deep Impact crash

Telescopes of the Anglo-Australian Observatory in central NSW will watch as a probe from NASA’s Deep Impact spacecraft slams into comet Tempel 1 on 4 July -- and will make a unique contribution to the global science effort for the mission.

The impact is timed for about 4pm AEST on 4 July when the comet will be best viewed from the mid Pacific.

Astronomers hope that when the probe hits the comet at a speed of nearly 37 000 km/hr (10.2 km per second) it will rip out a huge crater up to 200 m across and lead to a flow of gas and dust from the comet’s interior.

Smashing into the comet will give astronomers access to the pristine material of the comet’s interior. Comets preserve material from the early solar system but their surfaces have been chemically and physically altered by the Sun’s radiation.

The impact and its aftermath will be watched by the Deep Impact spacecraft, the Hubble Space Telescope, and ground-based telescopes around the world.

The Anglo-Australian Observatory’s telescopes  near Coonabarabran will be able to see the comet about two hours after the impact, after sunset in eastern Australia.

The UK Schmidt telescope will use its special ‘six-degree field’ instrument to observe many points over the whole body and tail of the comet, looking for a range of molecules.

“Our work is unique -- no other telescope watching will be able to make so many simultaneous observations over such a large area,” said Dr Rob Sharp of the Anglo-Australian Observatory, who will carry out the Schmidt observations.

The 4-m Anglo-Australian Telescope, the largest telescope in Australia, will be used to look for several compounds containing carbon and nitrogen, to calculate isotope ratios for those elements.

By the time the sun sets for eastern Australia the comet will be high in the sky, almost due north, but it will not be visible without a telescope.

Information and images  http://deepimpact.jpl.nasa.gov


Rob Sharp, Anglo-Australian Observatory rgs@aaoepp.aao.gov.au 
In Sydney 28 June 02-9372-4839  Travelling on Wed. 29 June
At Siding Spring Observatory 30 June onwards:
Visitors’ lodge 02-6842-6246  Switch 02-6842-6291 
UK Schmidt control room 02-6842-6279 (at night)

Listen to Rob Sharp talk about Deep Impact (7MB MP3 file) - interview recorded by David Huang for the discovery program of 2SER-FM

Jeremy Bailey, Australian Centre for Astrobiology, Macquarie Uni  jbailey@els.mq.edu.au
In Sydney 29 June 02-9850-6288   Travelling on Thurs. 30 June
At Siding Spring Observatory 1 July onwards. Lodge and switch numbers as above.
AAT control room 02-6842-6279 (at night)

Media enquiries

Helen Sim, Anglo-Australian Observatory hsim@aaoepp.aao.gov.au
02-9372-4251 (office) 0419-635-905 (mob)