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Classrooms, Museums Invited on Comet Encounter

Classrooms, Museums Invited on Comet Encounter Artist's concept of the Deep Impact spacecraft, which is used for the EPOXI mission. Image credit: NASA/JPL

October 13, 2010

An archive of the EPOXI flyby program, including the education section, can be found at

NASA's EPOXI mission is closing in on its flyby of comet Hartley 2. Students and educators can watch live web coverage of the encounter on Thurs., Nov. 4 from 6:30 a.m. to approximately 8 a.m. Pacific Time (9:30 to 11 a.m. Eastern time). They can also send questions in advance about the comet encounter to . Questions must be received by Tues., Nov. 2. Due to program constraints, not all questions will be answered.

This flyby will be only the fifth time in history that a comet has been imaged close-up. At point of closest approach, the spacecraft will be about 700 kilometers (435 miles) from the comet. EPOXI is an extended mission that uses the already "in-flight" Deep Impact spacecraft, which made its own cosmic fame when it released a small impactor into the path of comet Tempel 1 on July 4, 2005.

The program will offer live coverage from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory's mission control, where viewers will hear from scientists and engineers as they receive real-time data and images about the comet encounter. The program will also feature a roughly 20-minute education portion, featuring videotaped demonstrations of comet activities for the classroom and time to answer questions sent in by classrooms and other educational organizations. Details are provided below on the program content and suggested preparatory materials.
The program will air on JPL's UStream page at . NASA TV may be carrying space shuttle Discovery coverage. Check the NASA TV program schedule for updates at . If the program is not on NASA TV, it should air on NASA's Education Channel, which can be clicked on from the right side of the NASA TV program schedule web page.

To learn more about the EPOXI mission, go to . To learn more about the Deep Impact mission, go to .

Program Schedule *All times and content are approximate

6:30 a.m. - Welcome and spacecraft tracking

~ 7 a.m. Closest approach to comet  (** images will not be received at this time)

7:15 - 7:45 a.m. - Mission status and comet activities for the classroom; student questions answered

~ 8 a.m. - Closest approach images viewed

End of program

Suggested Classroom Preparation

Educators can review information about the mission and comets on the websites above. During the program we plan on showing a demonstration of how to make a comet with dry ice. We also plan to show a demonstration of a Comet on a Stick activity using craft materials. Teachers may wish to have their students make comets as a follow-up activity to the encounter. A full description of the Comet on a Stick activity can be found at .

Suggested materials for Comet on a Stick are:

Styrofoam balls (1 per student)

Popsicle sticks or plastic straws (1 per student)

Assortment of pompoms, cotton balls, packing "popcorn" or any other small material that can be glued to Styrofoam balls

Pipe cleaners (at least 2 per student)

Tin foil

Pillow filling or big pieces of cotton that can be pulled apart

Clear plastic wrap or cellophane

Ribbon or any material that can be used as a tail

Craft glue

Clear tape


1. Insert straw or popsicle stick into Styrofoam ball. The ball is the comet, the stick is merely to hold the comet.
2. Nucleus: Comets have uneven shapes so glue pompons or other materials to the ball so it has an uneven look.
3. Comets are icy so glue or tape pieces of tin foil to the ball.
4. To make the coma, or comet cloud, glue or tape pillow filling, cellophane or plastic wrap around the decorated ball.
5. To create the dust tail and ion tail, push pipe cleaners into ball and/or tape ribbon onto outside of decorated ball.

Comets come in all shapes and sizes so whatever your students create are good comet models. A video demonstration of this activity and How to Make a Comet with Dry Ice will be posted on close to November 4.