We’ve watched them streak across the sky for centuries, but what - beyond their sometimes extraordinary and fleeting beauty - do we really know about comets? Follow a breakthrough mission to demystify and - for the very first time - capture the contents of a comet. Premiering Sunday, January 22 at 7 p.m. ET/8 p.m. PT on Discovery Channel, Catching the Comet follows the exploration of a comet by devising an innovative way to bring one home.
This one-hour special follows the Stardust mission, the first U.S. space project dedicated to the exploration of a comet, and the first robotic exercise designed to return comet dust to Earth. Last year a NASA spacecraft flew past the comet, dubbed Wild 2, to collect comet dust - particles smaller than a grain of sand - in a specially designed high-tech capsule.
On January 15, 2006, that capsule will fall to Earth in the Utah desert. In the middle of the night, at a restricted location on a U.S. army base, waiting helicopters will pluck the canister from its landing spot and transport it to a specially prepared lab for analysis. What will the experiments reveal about this mysterious dust - and how will this new discovery inform our understanding of comets? In Catching the Comet, follow the 4.8-billion kilometre Stardust operation, from mission control to the preparations for the capsule’s return and its actual fall to Earth.
What do scientists know about comets already? Comets are like “cosmic refrigerators” - so cold, untouched and remote that they provide clues to the physical and chemical conditions of the solar system as it existed 4.6 billion years ago. That old stuff stuck at the back of the “cosmic fridge” is best described as frozen primordial ooze from the time the planets and Sun were formed. When scientists observe comets today, they are reaching back into the past and learning about the origin of the solar system and perhaps the beginning of life on Earth. But these balls of gas, dust and ice continue to puzzle scientists. Previous close encounters with comets - including last summer’s Deep Impact - have only raised more questions about this elusive, mutable element of our solar system.
Catching the Comet looks at the allure of comets and meets with experts both in North America and Australia. But this is not a simple retrospective on past comets. Catching the Comet will be there to chronicle the exciting next step in cosmic research as it happens in January 2006. Follow the team training to retrieve the comet-catching canister on the Utah flats and what mysteries the scientists hope to solve with this precious dust. Dr. Donald Brownlee, professor of Astronomy at the University of Washington and co-author of Rare Earth and The Life and Death of Planet Earth, is one of the world’s foremost experts on interstellar dust and the lead scientist on the NASA Stardust mission. Throughout the special, Brownlee reviews this latest mission step-by-step and share his vast knowledge of comets. Catching the Comet reveals the special training and preparations involved in the Stardust endeavour and follows the army personnel preparing to retrieve the fastest manmade object ever to enter Earth’s atmosphere… and all the in the dark! Will the one-of-a-kind canister and its contents survive reentry?
Catching the Comet will be there for the landing on January 15 and the momentous opening of the specially designed racquet-shaped canister on January 20 and answer the most important questions of all: Did the Stardust mission work? What did they find? And what does this new information mean for our understanding of the solar system?
Bold and leading edge, while informing and entertaining, Discovery Channel is Canada's leading source for factual programming, as it puts a new spin on exploring adventure, science and technology. This award-winning channel covers the scientific beat, from animals to the animalistic side of humanity, from the sea to space, and the latest in innovation. Roper Reports Canada has ranked Discovery Channel Canada first among all English-language Canadian specialty networks for overall quality of programming for eight consecutive years. Discovery Channel is one of the first Canadian specialty channels to offer programs in HDTV and its production house, Exploration Production Inc. (EPI), continues to be internationally recognized as a producer of cutting-edge programming. The channel's Web site may be found at www.discoverychannel.ca.