This illustration shows an artist concept of the NASA Comet Nucleus Tour (CONTOUR) spacecraft. CONTOUR will study at least two comets, providing the closest look at the cometís nucleus we have ever had.
Click on image for full size
Courtesy of NASA

CONTOUR on its Way to Catch a Comet!
News story originally written on July 3, 2002

NASAís Comet Nucleus Tour (called CONTOUR) launched July 3, 2002. The CONTOUR spacecraft will fly by at least two comets. It will take pictures and collect dust from the nucleus of each comet. Learning more about comets will help scientists answer some big questions!

One of these big questions is what the solar system was like when it was very young. Comets formed when our solar system formed. Because they are very old, they may tell us what changes were going on when the solar system formed.

Another big question is how Earth first became a good place for life a long time ago. Comets may have helped! When they showered over the Earth long ago, they may have brought things, like water and carbon, which helped life evolve and grow. If we know more about what comets are made of, we can know if this might be true.

To answer these big questions, the CONTOUR spacecraft will record data from at least two comets. It will encounter Encke in November 2003, and the Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 comet in June 2006.

Last modified August 6, 2002 by Lisa Gardiner.

You might also be interested in:

Traveling Nitrogen Classroom Activity Kit

Check out our online store - minerals, fossils, books, activities, jewelry, and household items!...more

The Beginning of the Solar System

Scientists believe that the solar system was formed when a cloud of gas and dust in space was disturbed, maybe by the expl osion of a nearby star (called a supernova). This explosion made waves in space...more

Evidence of Evolution

This Windows to the Universe Exploratour examines the scientific evidence of biological evolution. It is available at the intermediate and advanced levels only. To travel through the tour, click the back...more

1999--A Year in Review...

It was another exciting and frustrating year for the space science program. It seemed that every step forward led to one backwards. Either way, NASA led the way to a great century of discovery. Unfortunately,...more

STS-95 Launch: "Let the wings of Discovery lift us on to the future."

The Space Shuttle Discovery lifted off from Kennedy Space Center on October 29th at 2:19 p.m. EST. The sky was clear and the weather was great. This was the America's 123rd manned space mission. A huge...more

Moon Found Orbiting Asteroid

Scientists found a satellite orbiting the asteroid, Eugenia. This is the second one ever! A special telescope allows scientists to look through Earth's atmosphere. The first satellite found was Dactyl....more

U.S. is Fed Up with Russia

The United States wants Russia to put the service module in orbit! The module is part of the International Space Station. It was supposed to be in space over 2 years ago. Russia just sent supplies to the...more

More on Recent Coronal Mass Ejection

A coronal mass ejection (CME) happened on the Sun last month. The material that was thrown out from this explosion passed the ACE spacecraft. ACE measured some exciting things as the CME material passed...more

Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part is sponsored in part through grants from federal agencies (NASA and NOAA), and partnerships with affiliated organizations, including the American Geophysical Union, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Earth System Information Partnership, the American Meteorological Society, the National Center for Science Education, and TERC. The American Geophysical Union and the American Geosciences Institute are Windows to the Universe Founding Partners. NESTA welcomes new Institutional Affiliates in support of our ongoing programs, as well as collaborations on new projects. Contact NESTA for more information. NASA ESIP NCSE HHMI AGU AGI AMS NOAA