Space probe built by Airbus Defence and Space delivered first-ever close-up images of a comet’s nucleus 30 years ago
Thirty years ago, a tiny spacecraft called Giotto made history by flying within 600 kilometers of Halley’s comet. That trailblazing encounter by European Space Agency´s first deep space probe on 13/14 March, 1986 captured the public’s imagination. It became known as the ‘night of the comet’ and boosted future comet-exploring missions.
Stunning images sent back by Giotto showed a black, peanut-shaped nucleus 16 kilometers long with craters and fissures emitting dense plumes of gas and dust. The masses of data sent back revealed that four-fifths of the ejected matter consisted of water.
The most exciting results came when Giotto detected complex molecules locked in the ice on Halley, leading to speculation that these could be the building blocks of life on Earth. Flying through the gas and dust cloud, Giotto’s instruments registered thousands of impacts from dust particles that almost jeopardised the mission.
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