Ah, the joys of love on Valentine’s Day! Cuddled up with your sweetie and a heart-shaped box of chocolate, a nosegay of roses, stars…or, if you are a geek, Stardust, a spacecraft set for its own close encounter on Valentine’s Day. NASA TV has a special event planned with help from the San Gabriel Foothills’ own Jet Propulsion Lab.
Stardust, on the rebound from its rendezvous with Comet Wild 2 in 2004, is headed for a date with Comet Tempel 1 on Feb. 14, 2011. Stardust is a bit of a—well—star, being the first space voyager to return a sample of comet dust to earth. It collected particles directly from Wild 2 as well as interstellar dust and returned the capsule to earth in 2006.
If love is lovelier the second time around, both Stardust and Tempel 1 should be very happy. Tempel 1 was previously visited by Deep Impact, a craft that collided into the unsuspecting comet to create a shower of dust that could be studied by space scientists. Better-mannered Stardust will only take pictures.
Like all great lovers, Stardust and Tempel 1 will go down in history. This mission, dubbed Stardust-NExT and managed by JPL, will be the first time a comet has received a follow-up visit from a spacecraft. It will give scientists an opportunity to look for changes on the comet’s surface since Deep Impact left it in the lurch.
Here’s everything you need to know for a very geeky Valentine’s Day (and you don’t even have to get dressed up).
- Live coverage of the close encounter with Comet Tempel 1 begins at 8:30 p.m. PST on Feb. 14 on NASA TV and NASA’s website.
- Viewers can listen in on commentary from mission control at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena and see video from Lockheed Martin Space System’s mission support area in Denver.
- The closest approach is expected at approximately 8:37 p.m. PST with confirmation received on Earth at about 8:56 p.m. PST.
- After the encounter, contact will be re-established with the spacecraft.
- Around midnight to 1:30 a.m., NASA TV commentary will chronicle the arrival and processing of the first five of 72 close-approach images the team expects to be downlinked after the encounter, including a close-up view of the comet’s surface.
- In addition to the flowers and candy, make sure you bring your Pizza Hut coupons as your sweetie is sure to get hungry by 1:30 a.m.
Other fun things to do between now and Valentine’s Day (if you’re a geek):
- Watch Stardust-NExT mission animation and other video during NASA TV’s Video File segments.
- Watch streaming video online.
- Watch a real-time animation of the Stardust-NExT comet flyby using NASA’s new “Eyes on the Solar System” 3-D web tool created by JPL.
And if that isn’t enough…
- Live coverage of a news briefing is planned for 10 a.m. PST on Feb. 15. Scheduled participants are:
- Ed Weiler, NASA associate administrator, Science Mission Directorate, Washington
- Joe Veverka, Stardust-NExT principal investigator, Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y.
- Tim Larson, Stardust-NExT project manager, JPL
- Don Brownlee, Stardust-NExT co-investigator, University of Washington, Seattle
Commentary and the news conference will also be carried live on one of JPL’s Ustream channels. During events, viewers can engage in a real-time chat and submit questions to the Stardust-NExT team at http://www.ustream.tv/user/NASAJPL2 .
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