A spacecraft that brought precious fragments of a comet back to Earth is set to be sent to a second celestial wanderer.
Scientists want to use the Stardust probe to look at the comet attacked by Nasa’s Deep Impact mission last July.
That probe fired a smart bomb the size of a fridge into Comet Tempel 1 blasting a huge crater with the force of 4.5 tons of TNT (see picture, right).
The force of the explosion was so great that Deep Impact was unable to peer through the debris to see the football stadium-sized crater that it created.
Now astronomers are calling for the Stardust probe to be diverted to Tempel 1, which is the size of the Isle of Wight, to inspect the damage they did.
Stardust jettisoned a capsule containing dust from Comet Wild 2 as it flew past the Earth in January.
The capsule successfully parachuted through the atmosphere and the particles are now being studied by astronomers around the world including the UK.
Stardust itself continued in an orbit around the sun while Nasa decide what to do with it.
Joe Veverka, of Cornell University, New York, is pushing for Nasa to send Stadust back to Tempel 1.
He said: “The reason for doing the Deep Impact experiment was to find out how comets are put together on the inside.”
He said the information could help scientists plan how to deflect any comets or asteroids on a collision course with Earth.
Veverka’s team say they could direct Stardust on a course to reach Tempel 1 on 14 February, 2011.
“Things will have settled down and cleared up, so it’ll be easy to see the surface,” he said.
He estimates his mission would cost less than £17million.
© Paul Sutherland. Unauthorised reproduction forbidden.