This first image shows CONTOUR breezing past a comet nucleus (artist's rendition). The second image is a picture of all of the orbits involved. It shows how CONTOUR will be able to intersect the paths of the three comets.
Images Courtesy of NASA
The COmet Nucleus TOUR (CONTOUR) is one of the latest missions to join NASA's Discovery Program, a low cost alternative program. The spacecraft will begin its journey in 2002 and will study comets until 2008. The three targeted comets are Comet Encke, Comet Schwassmann-Wachmann-3 and Comet d'Arrest.
CONTOUR will fly by these comets and take detailed pictures of their nuclei. This type of mission was last performed in the mid-80's with Comet Halley by the European Space Agency (ESA). Scientists say CONTOUR will provide higher quality images than its predecessor. It will also collect comet dust for analysis.
The goal of the mission to learn more about these unique objects. Surprisingly, we know very little about comets. Scientists say that learning more about the make up of comets will help us to better understand the Earth.
CONTOUR mission page
Other comet missions
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