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NASA probe photographs peanut-shaped Comet Hartley 2

Enlarge Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UMD MORE IMAGES

A repurposed NASA spacecraft swung past Comet Hartley 2 on November 4, snapping detailed photographs such as the one above from just hundreds of kilometers away. The flyby provided a detailed look at the comet and the shape of its nucleus, which a mission manager had earlier called "a cross between a bowling pin and a pickle" based on ground-based radar readings.

The EPOXI mission spacecraft and the comet were about 23 million kilometers from Earth at the time of the encounter. EPOXI is a repurposing of NASA's Deep Impact spacecraft, which in 2005 visited another icy, dusty body known as Comet Tempel 1. In that rendezvous Deep Impact not only got a good look at the comet but also released an impactor that slammed into the nucleus to probe its composition.

Initial analyses of the EPOXI flyby indicate that the actual distance between spacecraft and comet was close to the planned separation of about 700 kilometers, according to a NASA press release.

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