The first of NASA’s comet photos are back from the Photomat. They’re from the HiRISE camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.
Nothing to get excited about. Don’t rush out for the poster.
This one’s from the Mars Rover Opportunity. Yesterday I said it was probably a daytime visible object on Mars. It was decidedly not. The comet is the fuzzy thing.
Kids, take note. Here’s how to bureaucratically hide what seems to have been a fizzle.
The highest-resolution of images of the comet’s nucleus, taken from a distance of about 86,000 miles (138,000 kilometers), have a scale of about 150 yards (138 meters) per pixel. Telescopic observers had modeled the size of the nucleus as about half a mile, or one kilometer wide. However, the best HiRISE images show only two to three pixels across the brightest feature, probably the nucleus, suggesting a size smaller than half that estimate.
Could they make it any more difficult to compare projections with observations?
The diameter is around half earlier predictions. Maybe 300-400 hundred meter. Not insubstantial, but not what was anticipated.
They had to take the precautions they took. But maybe it wasn’t enough of a sure thing to go as public as they did?
Or… maybe there are still really cool pictures to come.
The HiRISE camera onboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is the most powerful one of its kind ever sent to another planet. Its high resolution allows us to see Mars like never before, and helps other missions choose a safe spot to land for future exploration.
But probably not.