NASA Probe Sweeps Past 'Space Peanut'

Hartley 2 comet is spewing out cyanide gas
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 5, 2010 1:20 AM CDT
This black-and-white image of the comet Hartley 2 was sent from the NASA EPOXI Mission Deep Impact spacecraft.   (AP Photo NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Maryland)

(Newser) – NASA's Deep Impact probe is sending back amazing images from the comet Hartley 2, say team scientists. The probe, after a journey of 2.9 billion miles, came to within 435 miles for a fly-by of the intriguing peanut-shaped comet, the BBC reports. The comet is roughly 1.4 miles long, and scientists say it is surprisingly active and has been spewing out jets of cyanide gas for days.

"We have a lot of work to do to try to understand what's going on here. This is just spectacular," a team astronomer told the Baltimore Sun. The NASA team cheered as they saw the first images from the fly-by—only the fifth time a spacecraft has come close to a comet. On hand was Australian astronomer Malcolm Hartley, who discovered the comet as a "smudge" on photographic plates in 1986.

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