Deep Impact: Working properties for the target nucleus-Comet 9P/Tempel 1

Michael J.S. Belton, Karen J. Meech, Michael F. A'Hearn, Olivier Groussin, Lucy McFadden, Carey Lisse, Yanga R. Fernández, Jana Pittichová, Henry Hsieh, Jochen Kissel, Kenneth Klaasen, Philippe Lamy, Dina Prialnik, Jessica Sunshine, Peter Thomas, Imre Toth

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


In 1998, Comet 9P/Tempel 1 was chosen as the target of the Deep Impact mission (A'Hearn, M. F., Belton, M. J. S., and Delamere, A., Space Sci. Rev., 2005) even though very little was known about its physical properties. Efforts were immediately begun to improve this situation by the Deep Impact Science Team leading to the founding of a worldwide observing campaign (Meech et al., Space Sci. Rev., 2005a). This campaign has already produced a great deal of information on the global properties of the comet's nucleus (summarized in Table I) that is vital to the planning and the assessment of the chances of success at the impact and encounter. Since the mission was begun the successful encounters of the Deep Space 1 spacecraft at Comet 19P/Borrelly and the Stardust spacecraft at Comet 81P/Wild 2 have occurred yielding new information on the state of the nuclei of these two comets. This information, together with earlier results on the nucleus of comet 1P/Halley from the European Space Agency's Giotto, the Soviet Vega mission, and various ground-based observational and theoretical studies, is used as a basis for conjectures on the morphological, geological, mechanical, and compositional properties of the surface and subsurface that Deep Impact may find at 9P/Tempel 1. We adopt the following working values (circa December 2004) for the nucleus parameters of prime importance to Deep Impact as follows: mean effective radius = 3.25 ± 0.2 km, shape-irregular triaxial ellipsoid with a/b = 3.2 ± 0.4 and overall dimensions of ∼14.4 × 4.4 × 4.4 km, principal axis rotation with period = 41.85 ± 0.1 hr, pole directions (RA, Dec, J2000) = 46 ± 10, 73 ± 10 deg (Pole 1) or 287 ± 14, 16.5 ± 10 deg (Pole 2) (the two poles are photometrically, but not geometrically, equivalent), Kron-Cousins (V-R) color = 0.56 ± 0.02, V-band geometric albedo = 0.04 ± 0.01, Rband geometric albedo = 0.05 ± 0.01, R-band H(1, 1, 0) = 14.441 ± 0.067, and mass ∼7 × 1013 kg assuming a bulk density of 500 kgm-3. As these are working values, i.e., based on preliminary analyses, it is expected that adjustments to their values may be made before encounter as improved estimates become available through further analysis of the large database being made available by the Deep Impact observing campaign. Given the parameters listed above the impact will occur in an environment where the local gravity is estimated at 0.027-0.04 cm s-2 and the escape velocity between 1.4 and 2ms-1. For both of the rotation poles found here, the Deep Impact spacecraft on approach to encounter will find the rotation axis close to the plane of the sky (aspect angles 82.2 and 69.7 deg. for pole 1 and 2, respectively). However, until the rotation period estimate is substantially improved, it will remain uncertain whether the impactor will collide with the broadside or the ends of the nucleus.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationDeep Impact Mission
Subtitle of host publicationLooking Beneath the Surface of a Cometary Nucleus
PublisherSpringer Netherlands
Number of pages24
ISBN (Print)1402035993, 9781402035999
StatePublished - 2005


  • 9P/Tempel 1
  • comets
  • nucleus
  • space missions


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