2 August 2016
Perihelion Distance (q)
Aphelion Distance (Q)
Click for NASA orbit diagram
Hills Observatory: 1 January 2013 to 30 March 2020
The comet, also known as Tempel 1, was discovered on April 3, 1867, by Wilhelm Tempel,
an astronomer working in Marseille. At the time of discovery, it approached perihelion once
every 5.68 years (designations 9P/1867 G1 and 1867 II). It was subsequently observed in
1873 (9P/1873 G1, 1873 I, 1873a) and in 1879 (1879 III, 1879b).
Photographic attempts during 1898 and 1905 failed to recover the comet, and astronomers
surmised that it had disintegrated. In fact, its orbit had changed. Tempel 1's orbit occasionally
brings it sufficiently close to Jupiter to be altered, with a consequent change in the comet's
orbital period. This occurred in 1881 (closest approach to Jupiter of 0.55 AU), lengthening the
orbital period to 6.5 years. Perihelion also changed, increasing by 50 million kilometres,
rendering the comet far less visible from Earth.
Tempel 1 was rediscovered 13 orbits later in 1967 (as 9P/1967 L1, 1966 VII), after British
astronomer Brian G. Marsden performed precise calculations of the comet's orbit that took into
account Jupiter's perturbations. Marsden found that further close approaches to Jupiter in 1941
(0.41 AU) and 1953 (0.77 AU) had decreased both the perihelion distance and the orbital period
to values smaller than when the comet was initially discovered (5.84 and 5.55 years,
respectively). These approaches moved Tempel 1 into its present libration around the 1:2
resonance with Jupiter. Despite an unfavorable 1967 return, Elizabeth Roemer of the Catalina
Observatory took several photographs. Initial inspection revealed nothing, but in late 1968 she
found a June 8, 1967 exposure (Tempel 1 had passed perihelion in January) that held the image
of an 18th magnitude diffuse object very close to where Marsden had predicted the comet to
be. A single image does not allow an orbit computation, so the next return had to be awaited.
Roemer and L. M. Vaughn recovered the comet on January 11, 1972, from Steward Observatory
(9P/1972 A1, 1972 V, 1972a). The comet became widely observed, reached a maximum
brightness of magnitude 11 during May, and was last seen on July 10. Since that time the comet
has been seen at every apparition, in 1978 (1978 II, 1977i), 1983 (1983 XI, 1982j), 1989
(1989 I, 1987e1), 1994 (1994 XIUX, 1993c), 2000 and 2005. Its orbital period is 5.515 years.
Tempel 1 is not a bright comet; its brightest apparent magnitude since discovery has been 11,
far below naked-eye visibility. Its nucleus measures 7.6 km × 4.9 km (4.7 mi × 3.0 mi).
Measurements taken by the Hubble Space Telescope in visible light and the Spitzer Space
Telescope in infrared light suggest a low albedo of only 4%. A two-day rotation rate was also
On 4 July 2005 at 05:52 UTC (01:52 EDT), Tempel 1 was deliberately struck by one component
of the NASA Deep Impact probe, one day before perihelion. The impact was photographed by
the other component of the probe, which recorded a bright spray from the impact site. The
impact was also observed by earthbound and space telescopes, which recorded a brightening
of several magnitudes.
The crater that formed was not visible to Deep Impact due to the cloud of dust raised by the
impact, but was estimated to be between 100 and 250 meters in diameter and 30 meters deep.
The probe's spectrometer instrument detected dust particles finer than human hair, and
discovered the presence of silicates, carbonates, smectite, metal sulfides (like fool's gold),
amorphous carbon and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Water ice was detected in the ejecta.
The water ice came from 1 meter below the surface crust (the devolatized layer around the
In part because the crater formed during the Deep Impact collision could not be imaged during
the initial flyby, on 3 July 2007, NASA approved the New Exploration of Tempel 1 (or NExT)
mission. The low-cost mission utilized the already existing Stardust spacecraft, which had
studied Comet Wild 2 in 2004. Stardust was placed into a new orbit so that it approached
Tempel 1. It passed at a distance of approximately 181 km (112 mi) on February 15, 2011,
04:42 UTC. This was the first time that a comet was visited twice.
On February 15, NASA scientists identified the crater formed by Deep Impact in images from
Stardust. The crater is estimated to be 150 m (490 ft) in diameter, and has a bright mound in
the center likely created when material from the impact fell back into the crater. The geometry
of the flyby allowed investigators to obtain considerably more three-dimensional information
about the nucleus from stereo pairs of images than during Deep Impact's encounter. Scientists
were able to quickly spot locations where an elevated flow-like formation of icy material on the
comet's surface receded due to sublimation between encounters.
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