MAUNA KEA, Hawaii (July 3rd, 2005) For the first time ever, the W. M. Keck Observatory will let the public “eavesdrop” on actual observations as they come in from Deep Impact, a NASA Discovery Mission and the first to go to a comet. The event will provide a rare opportunity for the public to share in the thrill of discovery which makes astronomy so enjoyable. The event takes place at Keck Observatory Headquarters on Hawaii Island from 7 to 10pm on Sunday, July 3rd, 2005. The time of the impact is expected at 7:52 p.m. Hawaii Time.

“We are very excited about our participation in this unique astronomical event,” said Dr. Frederic Chaffee, director of the W. M. Keck Observatory. “All the major telescopes on Mauna Kea are working together to be certain that we use the best capabilities of each facility. The data we obtain will be made publicly available as soon after the event as possible so that astronomers all over the world can begin to digest and interpret the results.”

It is unclear what the public will actually be able to see the night of the event. For naked-eye observing, the comet may go from a nearly invisible object to a source slightly brighter than an average star. Dr. Karen Meech, coordinator for Earth’s ground-based observing team, said the comet may brighten to magnitude 3 object, making it visible to the naked eye near the vicinity of Spica and Jupiter. Observing events such as the one in Waimea will provide people with the opportunity to see images from the NASA spacecraft, in addition to what telescopes on the ground might see.

Live images from the NASA Deep Impact spacecraft will be broadcast to a large display screen at Keck Headquarters in Waimea. A remote-control link to the Keck II control room will let people observe real-time action during the event. On-screen displays from the observing rooms will let the public see what the astronomers see. An astronomer will help host the evening’s events to explain the action throughout the evening. Weather permitting, telescopes will be available for stargazing.

Science Observations Astronomers on Mauna Kea will work together to observe the impact and report on results. The W. M. Keck Observatory will help test theories of solar system formation by studying the first cosmic collision visible from Earth since comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 smashed into Jupiter in 1994. The observations will also help investigate whether Earth’s water may have originated from comets.

Background The Deep Impact mission is the first space mission to probe beneath the surface of a comet and reveal the secrets of its interior. Comets are time capsules that hold clues about the formation and evolution of the solar system. They are composed of ice, gas and dust, which is the primitive debris from the solar system’s earliest and coldest formation period, about 4.5 billion years ago.

The Deep Impact spacecraft will release a battery-powered “impactor” which will maneuver itself into the path of the comet. A camera on the impactor will send images of the comet back to Earth just seconds before collision. Meanwhile, the flyby spacecraft will observe and record data about the event. The collision of the 1-meter impactor will not be forceful enough to make an appreciable change in the comet’s orbital path around the Sun. The comet’s nucleus is about 2 miles wide.


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