As Jessica Sunshine said, Comet Hartley 2 might be the smallest of the five comets that our spacecraft have visited, but no doubt it is the most interesting, and for its size, the most active. Sunshine is the EPOXI mission deputy principal investigator, and she and her team have had the chance to analyze images from the Nov. 4 flyby of the comet. Closeup views yielded some big surprises: Hartley 2 is throwing snowballs.
“When we first saw all the specks surrounding the nucleus, our mouths dropped,” said Pete Schultz, EPOXI mission co-investigator at Brown University. “Stereo images reveal there are snowballs in front and behind the nucleus, making it look like a scene in one of those crystal snow globes.”
Estimates of the size of the largest particles ranges from a golf ball to a basketball.
Another surprise, which was noted almost immediately from the flyby images, were that the very active jets on the comet were powered by carbon dioxide. “This is the first time we’ve ever seen individual chunks of ice in the cloud around a comet or jets definitively powered by carbon dioxide gas,” said Michael A’Hearn, principal investigator for the spacecraft. “We looked for, but didn’t see, such ice particles around comet Tempel 1,” the comet that the Deep Impact spacecraft flew by in 2005.
Here are highlights from the press conference last week, along with some of the fantastic imagery of Comet Hartley 2.