Tempel 1: Fast Forward!
Note: Make sure you have Java enabled on your browser to see the applet. (And please give it a moment to load!)
[Be sure to take a look at Reading an Orbital Diagram to get some basic background on interpreting this graphic and what the sliders and other adjustments do.]
Orbit Viewer applet originally written and kindly provided by Osamu Ajiki (AstroArts),
and further modified by Ron Baalke (JPL).
If you'd like to check out the interactive orbital displays for other comets and asteroids, please visit the NEO Program.
What happens to comet Tempel 1 in the future? Let's play with the display above and find out!
Collision with Mars?!
Adjust the right slider so that you are looking at the Solar System from overhead. Now advance the date to mid-November 2021 by using either the date button or >> button (you might need to change the increments from 1 day to 10 days to make it go faster). Now change the increment back to 1 day and advance using the >| button. On November 16 it sure looks like the comet is going to hit Mars! But are you sure? Use the slider on the right and adjust your view so that you are looking at the Solar System from the side. You can also adjust the slider on the bottom so that you change from which side you are observing. You might also want to hide all of the orbits and then reselect just the orbits for Mars and Tempel 1. From the side, you can see that because of the tilt (inclination) of Tempel 1's orbit that it will miss Mars -- It's about 0.255 AUs (almost 24 million miles) away! Go ahead and advance the days. The comet is ahead of Mars. Even when Tempel 1 crosses Mars' orbital plane (on about mid-Jan 2022), Tempel 1 is still about 3-4 million miles away from Mars. There are some caveats... Read Tempel 1's Orbital History to see if you can figure one of them out. And remember this graphic is depicting huge distances in a small space. For example, look at the distance between the Sun and Earth. That's about 93 million miles and it shows up as about 2 inches on your monitor. And the graphic is not exactly to scale. In order to show the positions of objects, they had to make the dots big enough to see!