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A comet's tale!

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  • rlbaty@webtv.net
    This is a transcript from PM. The program is broadcast around Australia at 5:10pm on Radio National and 6:10pm on ABC Local Radio. Monday, 4 July , 2005 
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 4, 2005
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      This is a transcript from PM. The program is broadcast around Australia
      at 5:10pm on Radio National and 6:10pm on ABC Local Radio.

      Monday, 4 July , 2005  18:21:00
      Reporter: Julia Limb

      PETER CAVE: This afternoon a spacecraft the size of a washing machine
      crashed into a comet creating a spectacular cosmic light show.

      The giant explosion, 400 million kilometres from earth, was not a
      disaster but all part of NASA's $333 million Deep Impact Mission.

      The fireworks were orchestrated to take place on American Independence
      Day.

      Cheers broke out in the NASA control room as the first images of the
      spacecraft ploughing into the comet, known as Tempel 1, appeared on the
      screens with the size of the explosion even more spectacular than
      expected.

      Julia Limb's report starts in the final moments before impact.

      (sound of laughing, cheering and clapping)
      NASA WORKER ONE: We've got a confirmation.

      (sound of laughing, cheering and clapping)

      NASA WORKER TWO: Oh my god, look at that. Oh wow.

      (sound of laughing, cheering and clapping)

      NASA WORKER THREE: That's a keeper. You've got to put that in the
      (inaudible). Look at that! Oh we hit that sucker. That's awesome.

      AL DIAZ: Well I mean it's just absolutely stunning. To be in a situation
      where we're here tracking a comet for this period of time and then
      precisely positioning this spacecraft in a way that it creates this
      environment that's so bright.
      I mean it's just, I'm speechless. The precision, the cooperation, the
      cooperation among the scientists and the academia, the international
      cooperation, the cooperation among all of the spacecraft that are
      watching this event, including the Hubble Space Telescope which I am
      absolutely dying to see what those images look like.

      And so this is just an incredible event. I hate to use the term
      incredible that this is just actually happening, but it's a wonderful
      event.

      JULIA LIMB: That's Al Diaz from NASA's Science Mission Directorate
      moments after the impact.

      And Australian radio and optical telescopes have also been part of the
      project.

      At the Parkes Observatory in central New South Wales John Reynolds has
      been monitoring the Deep Impact probe.

      JOHN REYNOLDS: It's ah, we're over the moon here. It's a great
      opportunity to be part of such a big global experiment. It doesn't come
      along every day.

      It's similar to the excitement that we experienced back in January in
      the Huygens mission where we were again part of an international global
      collaboration for a very important space mission. So we don't get used
      to it but once again we're really excited to be part of it.

      JULIA LIMB: And are you seeing pictures of what's happening?

      JOHN REYNOLDS: Well we've been following the pictures on the NASA
      website that are being relayed through Tidbinbilla in Canberra and they
      look fascinating.

      But the particular observations that we're conducting here at Parkes
      will take a few hours or even days to reduce and it'll be a few days
      before we see anything definite.

      JULIA LIMB: And what are you actually looking at?

      JOHN REYNOLDS: Well the basic idea of the mission was to blast a large
      chunk of the comet out into space and then analyse the fragments and the
      particular mission we've been assigned here is to try and detect the OH
      molecule which is related to water to determine whether there's a large
      fraction of the comet that's made out of water.

      JULIA LIMB: And how important is that sort of information?

      JOHN REYNOLDS: Well comets are a basic building block if you like of the
      solar system so you don't see them every day but there's a lot of them
      out there and the analysis of comets is sort of basic knowledge as to
      how the solar system formed and what sort of material it comprises.

      And who knows in the future, the information and techniques that have
      been practiced today may be used to deflect a comet which is in
      collision course with the Earth.

      JULIA LIMB: And how does the information that you're collecting fit in
      with the whole Deep Impact Mission?

      JOHN REYNOLDS: Well there are three telescopes in Australia for example
      which are all observing as we speak, each looking for a different
      molecule that makes up, that potentially makes up the comets.

      So we're looking for water, or the OH molecule.

      Our sister observatory at Narrabri for example is looking for the CN
      molecule, another basic molecule in space. So, and across the globe,
      different telescopes are assigned to different missions, they're all
      looking for slightly different aspects of what the projected material
      contains.
      So it's a truly global experiment.

      JULIA LIMB: And do you think so far it appears to be working?

      JOHN REYNOLDS: It's working beautifully. The mission were jubilant back
      at Pasadena when the impact occurred. So that went flawlessly, the
      actual collision, and now it's a question of standing back and analysing
      the debris that's been ejected.

      JULIA LIMB: And how exciting was it for you to see what was happening at
      the headquarters?

      JOHN REYNOLDS: Oh it's great. The web is a wonderful tool these days.
      You can actually get a peek into the control room at the NASA during
      these very, very important events and actually get a flavour of the
      excitement that's building up.

      PETER CAVE: John Reynolds from the Parkes Observatory.

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