Comet snaring

Published: Monday 31 August 1992

EUROPEAN spacecraft Giotto created history mid-July when it swept past the comet, Grigg-Skjellerup, some 240 million km away in space. Giotto flew within 200 km of the comet's nucleus at 14 km a second and collected valuable data, despite being handicapped after its 1986 encounter with Halley's Comet. Fragments from Halley's Comet had battered the spacecraft seconds before it approached the comet and damaged its on-board television camera. To protect it from further harm scientists put Giotto into hibernation for some years and reactivated it just before its recent encounter, after which the spaceship was once again put back into hibernation. Giotto will now be reactivated in seven years' time and perhaps be swung into another orbit, using the earth's gravity, to meet a third comet.

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