Outer Space Snowstorm: Did Comet Probe Encounter Blizzard?

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REUTERS/Ho New

The final frontier becomes a winter wonderland?

The galaxy, a vast plain basking in the unknown with little the ordinary human can familiarize with – until now.  When NASA’s recycled Deep Impact spacecraft zoomed past its second comet earlier this month, it encountered a snow storm. Taking photographs of this astonishing discovery, scientists believe it to be the best extended view of any comet in history. “When we first saw this our mouths just dropped. The whole thing just looked like a snow globe,” Brown University’s Pete Schultz, a mission scientist, told reporters on Thursday. The sheer size of the ice particles were literally out of this world, up close some even appeared to be the size of basketballs. The particles jetted off the surface of the comet Hartley 2 when the probe, now renamed EPOXI, soared by at a relative speed of 27,000 mph on Nov. 4.

(Read ‘Comet and Spacecraft : A Fleeting Meeting.’)

It is estimated that Comet Hartley 2 pumps out 300 tons of ice, gas and dust per second. According to lead scientist Mike A’Hearn, University of Maryland, the comet drains these substances at “a rate that will deplete the body in about another 100 or so orbits around the sun.” The scientists say carbon dioxide appears to be key to understanding the different ways water escapes from Hartley 2′s interior.

(See a new theory on how comets are born.)

NASA’s scientists believe these photographs offer ground breaking evidence to the theory that comets originally carried some of the water and organic compounds that make up life on our planet.

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