Friday, June 10, 2005

Blurry vision

NASA's Deep Impact mission to the comet Tempel I will culminate on July 4 with the craft splitting into two pieces: the "impactor", an 850 pound chunk of copper that will strike the icy comet's core, and an instrument platform that will observe the comet and the impact. The science objective is to learn much more about the makeup of a comet.

Shortly after the mission was launched in January, scientists discovered that the high resolution imaging system — a key piece of instrumentation — would not focus correctly. Oops.

Now mission scientists have announced that they can "fix" the problem, with well-known deconvolution software that will "enhance" the blurry image by reversing, mathematically, the errors caused by the improperly focusing image. To do this, they had to first reconstruct the exact cause of the problem, and therein lies the achievement. has the story. An excerpt:

However in March it was discovered that the Flyby spacecraft's High Resolution Instrument (HRI) was not focusing properly. The team will use a process, called deconvolution, to remedy the situation. Deconvolution is widely used in image processing and involves the reversal of the distortion created by the faulty lens of a camera or other optical devices, like a telescope or microscope.

"The process is a purely mathematical manipulation that works extremely well,” said Don Yoemans, a co-investigator for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). JPL is managing the mission for NASA.

“Even if you have a perfect telescope, which is limited by diffraction, you can use deconvolution to improve the resolution,” Yoeman said. “The process is sometimes time consuming, so the biggest effect on the science is a delay while you do all the processing to get the quality that you expected."

I'll bet there are some folks at NASA breathing much easier now! The whole mission story is quite interesting, and you can read about it on NASA's mission pages.

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