Deep Impact Photographs Comet Tempel 1
Deep Impact's first image of comet Tempel 1, taken on April 25, 2005. Image
Credit: NASA/JPL/UMD

NASA's Deep Impact probe has photographed the comet it will soon slam into.

The image was released Wednesday. It was taken April 25, when the spacecraft was 39.7 million miles from comet Tempel 1.

The comet appears as little more than a smudge against the vast black of space. But officials said it was the first of many portraits Deep Impact will make of the frozen chunk of water, rock and other materials.

On July 4, a probe released from the Deep Impact mothership will hit the comet, carving a crater and kicking up enough dust that researchers say the event should be visible to backyard stargazers with binoculars or small telescopes. Seasoned skywatchers might even spot the comet with the naked eye as it brightens temporarily.

Deep Impact is designed to give researchers their first glimpse of the inner workings of a comet. By crashing the impactor into Tempel 1, thought to be a rather typical example of comets, researchers hope to glimpse pristine material that have not changed since the formation of the solar system.