No Images of Comet ISON from Deep Impact/EPOXI Spacecraft Due to Communication Loss

by Nancy Atkinson on September 4, 2013

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This image of comet ISON C/2012 S1 from NASA’s Deep Impact/EPOXI  spacecraft clearly shows the coma and nucleus on Jan. 17 and 18, 2013 beyond the orbit of Jupiter. Credit: NASA.

This image of comet ISON C/2012 S1 from NASA’s Deep Impact/EPOXI spacecraft clearly shows the coma and nucleus on Jan. 17 and 18, 2013 beyond the orbit of Jupiter. Credit: NASA.

Disappointing news today from Dr. Mike A’Hearn, Principal Investigator of the EPOXI mission, which has been using the repurposed spacecraft from the Deep Impact mission to study comets. The spacecraft was going to take some much-anticipated images of Comet ISON, but apparently a communication problem has occurred and the images may have been lost or possibly never taken.

“We have not received any of our expected observations of comet ISON due to a spacecraft problem,” A’Hearn wrote in an update on the EXPOXI website. “Communication with the spacecraft was lost some time between August 11 and August 14 (we only talk to the spacecraft about once per week). The last communication was on August 8. After considerable effort, the team on August 30 determined the cause of the problem. The team is now trying to determine how best to try to recover communication.”

No additional information was provided about the cause of the problem, however.

The Deep Impact mission intentionally crashed an impactor into comet Tempel-1 on July 4, 2005. Since then, EPOXI — the name comes from two combined missions to re-use the observing spacecraft, the Extrasolar Planet Observations and Characterization (EPOCh) and the Deep Impact Extended Investigation (DIXI) — has gone on to study comet Hartley 2, performing a close fly-by in 2010, studied C/2009 P1 (Garradd) in 2012, and has continued to be used as a remote observatory for studying comets.

EPOXI took images of Comet ISON on January 17, 2013, showing that the comet’s brightness varied on a timescale of hours (see the video above). There was another observing window from mid-February to March 8, where the team took infrared images of the comet.

The additional observing window from early July to early September is the timeframe for which there was a communication problem, and A’Hearn didn’t specify if any early images were received from the spacecraft, although he said they had “not received any of our expected observations.”

We’ll provide more information when it becomes available.

About 

Nancy Atkinson is Universe Today's Senior Editor. She also is the host of the NASA Lunar Science Institute podcast and works with Astronomy Cast. Nancy is also a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

David Henderson September 5, 2013 at 12:15 AM

Make you wonder if maybe they did get very clear and detail photos but they can not ever show what they got photos of so a cover story is made up.

David Krauss September 5, 2013 at 2:17 AM

If by “very clear and detailed” you mean similar to the ones shown in the article, then it would be hard to tell an alien from all the static.

Hope it phones home soon. Sounds like they’re playing a waiting game.

Patricia Mora September 11, 2013 at 3:51 PM

you took the words right out of my mouth…first supposed window of opportunity to view,,,supposedly by all those gadgets with miilions if not billions of dollars spent on latest tech …and this suddenly fails?

Stephen Persaud September 5, 2013 at 1:09 PM

I like the fact that apparently they first discovered it on the autumnal equinox (21st September)

Patricia Mora September 11, 2013 at 3:37 PM

took the words right out of my mouth

Patricia Mora September 11, 2013 at 3:46 PM

you sure ’bout that

Patricia Mora September 11, 2013 at 3:58 PM

why am i not suprised

Patricia Mora September 12, 2013 at 2:17 AM

why

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