NASA Hopes to Catch a Comet

A new craft hightails it to Comet Encke.

by Courtesy of NASA

CHASING TAIL
Over the next four years, Contour will visit two comets.
Courtesy of NASA

Considering how often comets make headlines, it's surprising how little is known about their icy cores. Scientists hope the Contour spacecraft, launching this month, will change that.

A joint project of NASA, Cornell, and the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, the spacecraft will fly by at least two comets on its four-year intrastellar journey-Comet Encke, in November 2003, and Comet Schwassmann-Wachmann 3, in June 2006.

THE COMEBACK COMETS

When our most famous space visitors will be back.

Halley
Last Seen: 1986
Where It Is: 2.57 billion miles away, between Uranus and Neptune
Next Visit: 2061

Hale-Bopp
Last Seen: 1997
Where It Is: 1.46 billion miles away, between Saturn and Uranus
Next Visit: 3557

Hyakutake
Last Seen: 1996
Where It Is: 1.67 billion miles away, between Saturn and Uranus
Next Visit: 31446