World Amused by NASA's Close Brush With Peanut-Shaped Comet

Not quite as thrilling as the moon landing, but close

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Following the 23-million km travel of one Deep Impact probe, "a series of deep-space manoeuvres, including three gravitational slingshots around Earth," according to the BBC, and the deployment of the probe's "two visible-light imagers and one infrared sensor," NASA has announced its conclusion: the inside of Comet Hartley 2 resembles a peanut. There may be slightly more dramatic findings. Perhaps they are secret.

The reaction is about what you might expect.

  • Hold the Phone  "Space peanut," says lawyer-blogger Ann Althouse. "Bet you weren't ready for that."
  • 'NASA Scientists Practically Begging Congress to Cut Their Funding,' summarizes The Awl's Dave Bry. His thoughts on the excited exclamations from the team featured in the press:
"We scientists are stupid," he might as well say, "the government should definitely not give us any money or let us experiment on stem cells or listen to anything we say about global warming or anything." Certainly, God knew the correct shape of the comet without sending a spaceship named after an Elijah Wood movie 23 million miles away from the earth to take pictures of it.
  • Even Time Magazine Has a Mocking Lede  "Would you travel 23 million miles to visit a rock?" asks Jeffrey Kluger in his opening. "Probably not, but you're not NASA."
  • 'Snarkiness Aside, This Is a Good Day for Science,' writes Christopher Hickey at Salon (who opened with the less-than-awestruck: "Remember the last time you saw pictures of a comet's nucleus? Exactly.").
Consider that Hartley 2 is only about three quarters of a mile across. Barely a dent in the vast reaches of space. Put in that perspective, timing the craft's fly-by with the comet is a mind-boggling feat. Even though 435 miles is like looking at Sacramento from Laguna Beach, consider that the distance from Earth to the Moon is 238,857 miles. Yeah, space is big. ... Deep Impact is the best name ever for a probe taking pictures of a comet, by the way.
  • Big Question: Peanut or Drumstick?  Charlie Petit at Knight Science Journalism Tracker awards's Mike Wall "first prize for original analogy. Lots of reporters compare the nucleus's shape to a peanut, a few to a bowling pin," explains Petit. "Wall nails it: a giant chicken drumstick. Maybe this simile made the rounds, but this story is where I noticed it."
  • No Really Guys, This Is Exciting!  There's something endearing about Discover's nearly day-by-day coverage on the event for its readers. You know, it is kind of interesting that the comet is full of cyanide "acting strangely," or that that scientists were "using a giant radio telescope like a cop's radar gun."
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