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Science - Observations - The Plan

Deep Impact Around the World
07.29.05

Students Observing the Deep Impact Encounter

When the Deep Impact projectile collided with comet Tempel 1 on July 4th at 5:52:24 UT, ejecta from the nucleus was not the only big splash made. Across the United States and in fact, around the world, museums, science centers and planetariums opened their doors to thousands of people for Encounter events that ranged from star parties to all night sleep-overs. Six months of training telecons hosted by the Museum Alliance had prepared them to put on quite a show for their local audiences. Families crammed institutions to capacity for the chance to be together watching NASA TV as the comet sped toward the impactor spacecraft. Incredible images were returned and provided over both NASA TV and the Deep Impact web sites. Heavy traffic on the web overpowered the network for a time as usage that surpassed both the most recent Mars and Cassini events combined ensued. As web capability was further bolstered that evening, people were astounded at the dramatic images of Tempel 1 and the blinding flash that occurred as a result of impact. In addition, audiences rooted for the teams of scientists and engineers who leapt to their feet as Dr. Mike A'Hearn proclaimed a successful impact.

The following day, the team and all employees at JPL were treated to an impact of a different sort as the members of the original Bill Haley and His Comets (now The Comets) performed a one hour concert of their hit songs including Rock Around the Clock. The song went to #1 during the same week 50 years ago.

Rock Around the Clock was an appropriate summation of the activity that had taken place during encounter with a 24-hour release of the impactor and a 24-hour study by the science team of those first precious images. It was also appropriate for employees at all three partnering institutions: University of Maryland, Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Ball Aerospace and Technology Corp who held events, kept their media and public information people up all night and escorted excited family members of the team to auditoriums to watch the results of their loved one's labor. But who else rocked around the clock?

Members of the Small Telescope Science Program (STSP), a group of amateur and professional astronomers at small and larger telescopes pointed their instruments to the sky to capture images from Earth. Some of these astronomers had tracked the comet during its prior orbital pass 5.5 years ago and returned to the program to look for visible changes before and after impact. Countless other astronomers like those of the Night Sky Network who had been trained by the E/PO team for the encounter gathered curious audiences outside to try and get a glimpse of the comet. Large telescopes around the work observed the comet and submitted their data to the science team for study. Comparisons of Earth and space observation taken by the Deep Impact spacecraft, Hubble, Spitzer, Rosetta and Chandra will provide the Education and Public Outreach team with a wonderful theme for the value of comparable kinds of data taken during a mission.

Solar System Educators (SSEP) and Solar System Ambassadors (SSA) who volunteered their time, drove to remote locations, spent nights in strange cities, and stood on their feet for many hours to bring the Deep Impact mission to the public and schools for the past 5 years tirelessly coordinated and threw multiple events during the week before and after encounter. In Hawaii, the Mauna Kea Astronomy Education Center provided an educator workshop featuring the Deep Impact mission where the theme was comparing the ancient and contemporary forms of observation in the Hawaiian Islands and the observation that NASA does in space and on Earth. Hawaii was one of the best locations for viewing the impact, which led teams of leaders and Girl Scouts to travel there for a one-week workshop on different kinds of space and Earth observation and the Deep Impact mission. . These Scouts returned to their councils outfitted with new knowledge and telescopes to be used in their councils to train others. Deep Impact outreach members have been training the Girl Scouts for the past 4 years most recently under the formal MOU between NASA and the Science Mission Directorate. Girl Scout trainers who had looked forward to the encounter stood on mountaintops and around campfires looking up into the sky and telling girls around them that it was really happening at that moment. Students who had spent the last years learning for the first time about comets through song and story and building their comet models stayed up late with their families or jumped onto their computers in the early morning to see the results. Ten thousand people in Waikiki sat around a large movie screen to view the impact and looked up into the sky, just in case it was in sight. Over 625,000 people who entered their names to go on a CD on the side of the impactor watched as their names made a Deep Impact!

In 1999, the Deep Impact outreach team promised NASA to invest in those who would help form a nation wide community for encounter on July 4th. At the time, it seemed ambitious. Programs formed with other missions, outside organizations and within the Deep Impact outreach plan to accomplish the goal. What was the result? Scientists, engineers, teachers, speakers, leaders, families and children - a community beginning in 2000 and growing toward 800 seconds of pure drama to see what is really inside a comet. Thanks to all our extended outreach team members - You made a Deep Impact!

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