Composite of images of nucleus obtained by the Deep Impact impactor
Discovered byWilhelm Tempel
Discovery dateApril 3, 1867
  • 9P/1867 G1
  • 1867 II
  • 9P/1873 G1
  • 1873 I
  • 1873a
  • 1879 III
  • 1879b
  • 9P/1967 L1
  • 1966 VII
  • 9P/1972 A1
  • 1972 V
  • 1972a
  • 1978 II
  • 1977i
  • 1983 XI
  • 1982j
  • 1989 I
  • 1987e1
  • 1994 XIX
  • 1993c
Orbital characteristics
Aphelion4.757 AU
Perihelion1.545 AU[1]
(1.77 AU after 2024 Jupiter approach)[2][3]
Semi-major axis3.151 AU
Orbital period5.59 years (2,040 days)
Argument of
Last perihelionMarch 4, 2022[1]
August 2, 2016[1]
Next perihelion2028-Feb-12[3]
Earth MOID0.52 AU (78 million km)
Physical characteristics
Dimensions7.6 km × 4.9 km (4.7 mi × 3.0 mi)[4][5]
Mass7.2×1013 to 7.9×1013 kg[5][6]
Mean density
0.62 g/cm3[7]
40.7 hours[4]

Tempel 1 (official designation: 9P/Tempel) is a periodic Jupiter-family comet discovered by Wilhelm Tempel in 1867. It completes an orbit of the Sun every 5.6 years. Tempel 1 was the target of the Deep Impact space mission, which photographed a deliberate high-speed impact upon the comet in 2005. It was re-visited by the Stardust spacecraft on February 14, 2011, and came back to perihelion in August 2016. On 26 May 2024, it will make a modest approach of 0.55 AU to Jupiter[4][2] which will lift the perihelion distance and 9P will next come to perihelion on 12 February 2028 when it will be 1.77 AU from the Sun.[3]

Discovery and orbital history

Tempel 1 was discovered on April 3, 1867, by Wilhelm Tempel, who was working at Marseille. At the time of discovery, it approached perihelion once every 5.68 years (designations 9P/1867 G1 and 1867 II).[8][9] It was subsequently observed in 1873 (9P/1873 G1, 1873 I, 1873a) and in 1879 (1879 III, 1879b).[10]

Photographic attempts during 1898 and 1905 failed to recover the comet, and astronomers surmised that it had disintegrated, when in reality, its orbit had changed. Tempel 1's orbit occasionally brings it sufficiently close to Jupiter to be altered, with a consequent change in the comet's orbital period.[2] This occurred in 1881 (closest approach to Jupiter of 0.55 AU), lengthening the orbital period to 6.5 years. Perihelion also changed, increasing by 50 million kilometres, to 2.1 AU, rendering the comet far less visible from Earth.[2] Perihelion did not drop below 2 AU until 1944 after a 1941 approach to Jupiter.[11]

Detail of crater-like features on Comet Tempel 1 in image taken by Deep Impact's impactor

Tempel 1 was rediscovered in 1967 (as 9P/1967 L1, 1966 VII) after British astronomer Brian G. Marsden performed precise calculations of the comet's orbit that took into account Jupiter's perturbations. Marsden found that further close approaches to Jupiter in 1941 (0.41 AU) and 1953 (0.77 AU) had decreased both the perihelion distance and the orbital period to values smaller than when the comet was initially discovered (5.84 and 5.55 years, respectively).[2] These approaches moved Tempel 1 into its present libration around the 1:2 resonance with Jupiter. Despite an unfavorable 1967 return, Elizabeth Roemer of the Catalina Observatory took several photographs.[2] Initial inspection revealed nothing, but in late 1968 she found a June 8, 1967 exposure (Tempel 1 had passed perihelion in January) that held the image of an 18th magnitude diffuse object very close to where Marsden had predicted the comet to be. At least two images are required for orbit computation, so the next return had to be awaited.[2]

Roemer and L. M. Vaughn recovered the comet on January 11, 1972, from Steward Observatory (9P/1972 A1, 1972 V, 1972a).[2] The comet became widely observed, reached a maximum brightness of magnitude 11 during May, and was last seen on July 10. Since that time the comet has been seen at every apparition, in 1978 (1978 II, 1977i), 1983 (1983 XI, 1982j), 1989 (1989 I, 1987e1), 1994 (1994 XIUX, 1993c), 2000, and 2005.[2]

Physical characteristics

Tempel 1 in X-ray light [12] by Chandra

Tempel 1 is not a bright comet; its brightest apparent magnitude since discovery has been 11, far below naked-eye visibility. Its nucleus measures 7.6 km × 4.9 km (4.7 mi × 3.0 mi).[4][5] Measurements taken by the Hubble Space Telescope in visible light [13] and the Spitzer Space Telescope in infrared light [14] suggest a low albedo of only 4%. A two-day rotation rate was also determined.[15] The comet was also seen to emit x-rays due to highly charged solar wind ions removing electrons via charge exchange from gases outflowing from Tempel 1's nucleus.[12]


Deep Impact space mission

Animation of Deep Impact's trajectory from 12 January 2005 to 8 August 2013
   Deep Impact 1   Tempel 1   Earth   103P/Hartley
The head-on collision of comet 9P/Tempel and the Deep Impact impactor

On 4 July 2005 at 05:52 UTC (01:52 EDT), Tempel 1 was deliberately struck by one component of the NASA Deep Impact probe, one day before perihelion. The impact was photographed by the other component of the probe, which recorded a bright spray from the impact site. The impact was also observed by earthbound and space telescopes, which recorded a brightening of several magnitudes.

The crater that formed was not visible to Deep Impact due to the cloud of dust raised by the impact, but was estimated to be between 100 and 250 meters in diameter[16] and 30 meters deep. Spitzer Space Telescope observations of the ejecta detected dust particles finer than human hair and discovered the presence of silicates, carbonates, smectite, metal sulfides (such as fool's gold), amorphous carbon and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.[17] Spitzer also detected water ice in the ejecta, consistent with surface water ice detected by Deep Impact's spectrometer instrument.[18] The water ice came from 1 meter below the surface crust (the devolatized layer around the nucleus).[18]

NEXT mission

Before and after comparison images from Deep Impact and Stardust, showing the crater formed by Deep Impact on the right hand image.
Animation of Stardust's trajectory from 7 February 1999 to 7 April 2011
   Stardust  ·   81P/Wild ·   Earth ·   5535 Annefrank  ·   Tempel 1

In part, because the crater formed during the Deep Impact collision could not be imaged during the initial flyby,[16] on 3 July 2007, NASA approved the New Exploration of Tempel 1 (or NExT) mission. The low-cost mission utilized the already existing Stardust spacecraft, which had studied Comet Wild 2 in 2004. Stardust was placed into a new orbit so that it approached Tempel 1. It passed at a distance of approximately 181 km (112 mi) on February 15, 2011, 04:42 UTC.[19] This was the first time that a comet was visited twice.

On February 15, NASA scientists identified the crater formed by Deep Impact in images from Stardust. The crater is estimated to be 150 m (490 ft) in diameter and has a bright mound in the center likely created when material from the impact fell back into the crater.[20] Energy of impactor According to NASA "The impactor delivers 19 Gigajoules (that's 4.8 tons of TNT) of kinetic energy to excavate the crater. This kinetic energy is generated by the combination of the mass of the impactor (370 kg; 816 lbs) and its velocity when it impacts (~10.2 km/s)". According to NASA, "The energy from the impact will excavate a crater approximately 100m wide and 28m deep".[21]

The geometry of the flyby allowed investigators to obtain considerably more three-dimensional information about the nucleus from stereo pairs of images than during Deep Impact's encounter.[22] Scientists were able to quickly spot locations where an elevated flow-like formation of icy material on the comet's surface receded due to sublimation between encounters.[22]

Close approaches

Comets are in unstable orbits that evolve due to perturbations and outgassing. Tempel 1 passed within 0.04 AU – or 5.9 million km (3.7 million mi) – of the dwarf planet Ceres on November 11, 2011.[4] Then, as a Jupiter-family comet, it will spend years interacting with the giant planet Jupiter, and by October 2084 perihelion will be lifted as high as 1.98 AU.[23] Then perihelion will start dropping again and it will pass 0.0191 AU (2.86 million km; 1.78 million mi) from Mars on October 17, 2183.[4]

9P/Tempel closest Mars approach on 2183-Oct-17[4]
Date & time of
closest approach
Mars distance
Sun distance
wrt Mars
wrt Sun
2183-Oct-17 16:25 ± 2 hours 0.0191 AU (2.86 million km; 1.78 million mi; 7.4 LD) 1.506 AU (225.3 million km; 140.0 million mi; 586 LD) 6.58 29.92 ± 6620 km Horizons



  1. ^ a b c d MPC
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Kronk, Gary. "9P/Tempel 1". cometography.com. Retrieved 18 April 2023.
  3. ^ a b c "Horizons Batch for 9P/Tempel 1 (90000191) on 2028-Feb-12" (Perihelion occurs when rdot flips from negative to positive). JPL Horizons. Archived from the original on 2022-06-15. Retrieved 2022-06-15. (JPL#K223/6 Soln.date: 2022-Jun-08)
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  6. ^ Using a spherical diameter of 6.25 km; volume of a sphere * a rubble pile density of 0.62 g/cm3 yields a mass (m=d*v) of 7.9E+13 kg
  7. ^ D. T. Britt; G. J. Consol-magno SJ; W. J. Merline (2006). "Small Body Density and Porosity: New Data, New Insights" (PDF). Lunar and Planetary Science XXXVII. Retrieved 2008-12-16.
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  9. ^ "Tempel 1: Biography of a comet". www.esa.int. Retrieved 2022-08-04.
  10. ^ Rao, Joe (2005-06-03). "The History of Tempel 1, the 'Deep Impact' Target". Space.com. Retrieved 2022-08-04.
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  12. ^ a b Lisse, Carey M.; Dennerl, K.; Christian, D. J.; Wolk, S. J.; Bodewits, D.; Zurbuchen, T. H.; Hansen, K. C.; Hoekstra, R.; Combi, M.; Fry, C. D.; Dryer, M.; Mäkinen, T; Sun, W. (2007). "Chandra observations of Comet 9P/Tempel 1 during the Deep Impact campaign". Icarus. 190 (2): 391–405. Bibcode:2007Icar..190..391L. doi:10.1016/j.icarus.2007.03.004.
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  14. ^ Lisse, Carey M.; A'Hearn, M. F.; Groussin, O.; Fernández, Y. R.; Belton, M. J. S.; VanCleve, J.; Charmandaris, V.; Meech, K. J.; McGleam, C. (2005). "Rotationally Resolved 8-35 Micron Spitzer Space Telescope Observations of the Nucleus of Comet 9P/Tempel 1". Astrophysical Journal. 625 (2): L139–L142. Bibcode:2005ApJ...625L.139L. doi:10.1086/431238.
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  17. ^ Lisse, Carey M.; VanCleve, J.; Adams, A. C.; A'Hearn, M. F.; Fernández, Y. R.; Farnham, T. L.; Armus, L.; Grillmair, C. J.; Ingalls, J.; Belton, M. J. S.; Groussin, O.; McFadden, L. A.; Meech, K. J.; Schultz, P. H.; Clark, B. C..; Feaga, L. M.; Sunshine, J. M. (2006). "Spitzer Spectral Observations of the Deep Impact Ejecta". Science. 313 (5787): 635–640. Bibcode:2006Sci...313..635L. doi:10.1126/science.1124694.
  18. ^ a b Sunshine, Jessica M.; Groussin, O.; Schultz, P. H.; A'Hearn, M. F.; Feaga, L. M.; Farnham, T. L.; Klaasen, K. P. (2007). "The distribution of water ice in the interior of Comet Tempel 1" (PDF). Icarus. 190 (2): 284–294. Bibcode:2007Icar..190..284S. doi:10.1016/j.icarus.2007.04.024.
  19. ^ Able, D. C. (2011-02-14). "NASA's Stardust Spacecraft Completes Comet Flyby". Stardust-Next Mission. JPL. Archived from the original on 2011-02-18. Retrieved 2011-02-16.
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Further reading

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