JPL spacecraft has close encounter with comet

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Comet Hartley 2 as NASA's EPOXI mission approached and flew under the comet. The image was taken by EPOXI's Medium-Resolution Instrument on Nov. 4, 2010. The sun is to the right.

Scientists at the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena are proudly sharing their new photos of the Hartley 2 comet. The photos offer a rare close-up view of the comet's center.

This is only the fifth time scientists have been able to look so closely at a comet's core.

In space, “close” means within about 450 miles. That’s how “close” NASA’s Deep Impact spacecraft got to the Hartley 2 comet. The spacecraft has been chasing the comet for two months. Their "close" encounter happened 13 million miles away from Earth.

Scientists study comets because they’re what's left over from the formation of the solar system about 4.5 to 5 billion years ago. When Deep Impact beamed its pictures back to Earth, mission controllers applauded.

One JPL scientist described the comet’s center as "hyperactive, small, and feisty."

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