This illustration shows an artist concept of the NASA Comet Nucleus Tour (CONTOUR) spacecraft. CONTOUR will study at least two comets, providing the closest look at the cometís nucleus we have ever had.
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Courtesy of NASA
CONTOUR on its Way to Catch a Comet!
News story originally written on July 3, 2002
NASAís Comet Nucleus Tour (CONTOUR), launched July 3, 2002. The CONTOUR spacecraft will fly by at least two comets, taking pictures and collecting dust from the nucleus of each comet to help scientists answer some big questions.
Studying the comets may help us better understand how our own solar system was formed and what the outer planets are made of. How can comets tell us this story? Comets formed back when our solar system formed, so they may be like time capsules, telling us what sorts of changes were going on 4.6 billion years ago.
Also, studying what comets are made of may help us understand how Earth first became a good place for living things 3.5 billion years ago. When many comets showered over the earth long ago, they may have brought water and carbon, helping Earth become a place that life was able to evolve and grow.
To answer these scientific questions, the CONTOUR spacecraft will record data from at least two comets from the Jupiter family. It will encounter Encke, a comet with a very short orbit, in November 2003, and the Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 comet in June 2006, flying as close at 62 miles (100 km) from each cometís nucleus.
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