Space: Probe for Comet Fluff

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Within the next 15 years, says Engineer Robert A. Park, head of S.T.L.'s comet-catching crew, 31 known comets will come close enough to earth to be reached with space probes launched by existing Atlas-Agena rockets. Biggest problem will be to predict a target comet's course with sufficient accuracy. S.T.L. thinks this can be done by modern electronic computation, permitting the probe to pass within 6,000 miles of the mysterious nucleus and report by TV what it looks like.

Meanwhile a host of other instruments will be quizzing the comet. They will count its dust particles, find out whether it carries its own magnetic field. A more spectacular suggestion is to explode a nuclear bomb near the nucleus. The commotion caused by this celestial mayhem should yield copious information about the damaged comet.

Some astronomers argue that comets are denizens of interstellar space that have been captured by the sun. They even may be part of a process by which the sun feeds on interstellar matter and renews its substance. In any case, comets are messengers from inconceivable distances, and they may well carry the key to a new understanding of the universe.

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