Massive comet?s collision imminent
AFTER a voyage of 173 days and 431 million kilometres, NASA's Deep Impact spacecraft will on Monday, at 3.52pm, get up-close and personal with the comet Temple 1.
Sending a 370kg missile into the comet, the purpose of the voyage is to analyse the plume of material hurled into space by the impact and to study the crater left behind in the comet.
The missile, which is the size of a dishwasher, will not be ex-plosive but will strike the comet at a collision speed of about 37,000km/h.
It is unlikely to shatter the comet which is more than 10km wide, but the size of the crater could vary in size from a large house up to a football stadium and from two to 14 storeys deep.
At the moment the comet is too faint to see except through a telescope.
After impact, however, the cloud of material thrown up will reflect sunlight and probably boost the comet's brilliance to naked-eye level and, almost certainly, within reach of binoculars.
The time to look is after 6.30pm on Monday or the following evenings next week at that time.
To find where to look, first find Jupiter high in the north and the brightest object in the sky, then look to the upper right of Jupiter for the bright star, Spica, and the comet will be just to the north-east of Spica.