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Internet Astronomy December 26, 2005

Posted by Michael McVey in Lifelong Learning, Online Tools.

Comet   On July 4, 2005, for a brief moment, scientists were transfixed on a single point in the sky as an 820 pound (370 kg) mass was hurled at Comet Tempel 1. Scientists used sensitive instruments and cameras to record the impact and analyze the debris from the comet.

The whole incident was over in moments, but what might have been a passing moment has been frozen for analysis by students. Scientists are still publishing data about the impact and the average non-astronomer can still marvel over the results through regular newsletters from the Deep Impact team.

Just prior to the impact I had a discussion about the possible results of the impact with an electrical engineer from Kitt Peak. He didn’t think there would be much of a splash when the comet was hit. A photo from the resulting explosion on the surface of the comet has been entered as one of the News Photos of the Year for 2005 in an MSNBC contest.

For teachers, the story of the comet and the Deep Impact project is recorded from inception to launch to impact to analysis. They can pull out all manner of class science projects to perform with their students from making and eating a comet to analyzing craters.

I recall having to search long and hard for great new materials to bring to my own astronomy class and the textbook I ordered was of no help. The text, an astronomy reference book, was so out-of-date that on the last page was an “artist’s rendition” of what a space-based telescope might look like. The Hubble Space Telescope had already been in orbit for five years.

Simply stated, school astronomy courses have been turned inside out by the amazing work of some excellent public outreach teams.



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