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 comet’s nucleus we have ever had.
Click on image for full size
Courtesy of NASA
CONTOUR on its Way to Catch a Comet!
News story originally written on July 3, 2002
The Comet Nucleus Tour (CONTOUR), a NASA Discovery Mission, launched July 3, 2002 from Cape Canaveral, Florida. 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.
“Contour is the next in the growing lineup of missions to explore small planetary bodies-such as comets and asteroids- and we expect it will add much to what little we know about these ancient samples of the solar system’s original materials,” said Dr. S.M. Krimigis of John’s Hopkins University’s Applies Physics Laboratory.
Studying the comets may help us better understand how our own solar system was formed and the composition of the outer planets. How can comets tell us this story? Because comets formed back when our solar system formed, they may be like time capsules, telling us what sorts of processes were occurring 4.6 billion years ago.
Also, studying what comets are made of may help us understand how the conditions on Earth became suitable for life to exist 3.5 billion years ago. Comets may have helped Earth become a good place for life to evolve when many comets bombarded the young Earth just before life evolved, possibly bringing water and carbon necessary for life.
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 as 62 miles (100 km) from each comet nucleus.
Shop Windows to the Universe Science Store!
Our online store
on science education, classroom activities in The Earth Scientist
specimens, and educational games
You might also be interested in:
Scientists believe that the solar system was formed when a cloud of gas and dust in space was disturbed, maybe by the supernova of a nearby star. Shock waves from the explosion compressed the cloud of...more
This Windows to the Universe Exploratour examines the scientific evidence of biological evolution. Take the tour to travel through 10 web pages about the scientific theory that explains how and why living...more
It was another exciting and frustrating year for the space science program. It seemed that every step forward led to one backwards. Either way, NASA led the way to a great century of discovery. Unfortunately,...more
The Space Shuttle Discovery lifted off from Kennedy Space Center at 2:19 p.m. EST, October 29th. The sky was clear and the weather was great as Discovery took 8 1/2 minutes to reach orbit for the Unitied...more
A moon was discovered orbiting the asteroid, Eugenia. This is only the second time in history that a satellite has been seen circling an asteroid. A special mirror allowed scientists to find the moon...more
Will Russia ever put the service module for the International Space Station in space? NASA officials are demanding an answer from the Russian government. The necessary service module is currently waiting...more
During a period of about two days in early May, 1998, the ACE spacecraft was immersed in plasma associated with a coronal mass ejection (CME). The SWICS instrument on ACE, which determines unambiguously...more