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A brief but brilliant encounter…

As I write this, space journalists and reporters are gathered at JPL to hear the preliminary results from a very exciting and important spacecraft fly-by which took place earlier today.

Around 2pm UK time, the first results started to come back from the “EPOXI” spacecraft – the space probe formerly known as “Deep Impact” – which had screamed past the small comet Hartley 2 (yes, the same one which has been visible in the evening sky recently, but was, to be honest,  VERY disappointing and hard to see). And thanks to the generostity (and increasing Social Media/PR savvy!) of NASA, many thousands of people, like yours truly, were able to experience the excitement and drama and heart-stopping tension of the encounter by tuning in to a NASA streaming video feed showing the control room as the first data made it back to Earth.

And seriously, that was incredible. To sit here, at my computer, and watch the first images of the comet come appear on the control room screens, at EXACTLY the same time as the engineers, scientists and techs involved in the mission, was fantastic. Everyone – there at JPL and scattered across the world, in our studies, bedrooms and offices – was in the same boat, all we could do was wait… and wait… and wait… until the first image of Hartley’s nucleus appeared on the screen. Then it did! It was there! A huge cheer went up, and as fists punched the air, high fives were exchanged and cameras flashed, one basic truth shone out:

We had seen another world, another piece of Out There, close-up for the first time. We had, each and every one of us watching, not only witnessed but participated in the exploration of our solar system.

Whoever at NASA decided to allow us to ride along with EPOXI today as it encountered Comet Hartley – thank you. You helped us witness history in the making, literally. We were there, in the control room, as real science was being done, as discoveries were being made, and it was magical.

And here it is – the nucleus of Comet Hartley. These are raw images that I’ve messed about with slightly, just to make them look a bit more, well, dramatic. Not necessary, I know, but hey, it’s my blog… 🙂

The best images, the highest resolution ones, haven’t been released yet because they’re still being processed and worked on, but when they are released – some maybe tomorrow? – they’re going to be stunning, I’m sure. Can’t wait! 🙂

In the meantime, I couldn’t resist making this…

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