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Emily LakdawallaNovember 26, 2009

Spectacular animation of Halley's comet

It's a holiday and I'm enjoying time with the family, so rather than write a lot, I will let a spectacular image do the talking for me. Here is an animation of data from ESA's first interplanetary spacecraft, Giotto, launched to study Halley's comet during its 1986 apparition. These data are incredibly difficult to work with, but finally someone -- an amateur named Daniel Macháček -- came along who carefully reprojected each of the tiny postage stamp-sized images to create a window onto the comet, a window that jerks around more and more as the spacecraft gets hammered by Halley debris.

Giotto's encounter with Halley's comet

ESA / Giotto project, H. U. Keller / animation by Daniel Macháček / stabilized by Gordan Ugarkovic

Giotto's encounter with Halley's comet
Giotto's HMC images of Halley's comet, captured on March 13 and 14, 1986, were complicated by the fact that its camera was a line-scanning or "pushbroom" instrument, while the spacecraft rotated. Near closest approach, the spacecraft took 74-pixel-wide images in rapid succession until the spacecraft suffered too much damage from Halley's debris.

Read more: pretty pictures, comets, amateur image processing, comet Halley, comet Halley armada, animation

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Emily Lakdawalla

Senior Editor and Planetary Evangelist for The Planetary Society
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Emily Lakdwalla
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