Image: Artist's conception, Deep Impact spacecraft
NASA/JPL-Caltech  /  AP
This image provided by NASA/JPL-Caltech shows an artist's conception of NASA's Deep Impact spacecraft that has an appointment with comet Hartley 2 on thursday Nov. 4, 2010. The encounter will mark only the fifth time a comet has been photographed up close — and the first time two comets have been imaged by the same instruments and same spatial resolution, according to Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
updated 11/4/2010 10:38:24 AM ET 2010-11-04T14:38:24

A NASA spacecraft is getting up close and personal with a small comet.

Mission controllers at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory clapped and cheered Thursday when the Deep Impact craft sent a signal to Earth minutes after the planned flyby of comet Hartley 2, telling them it's still alive.

Scientists are waiting for the first images to be beamed back that will show them how the rendezvous went.

Thursday's mission is not the first for Deep Impact. In 2005, it dazzled the world when it fired a copper probe into another comet Tempel 1, giving scientists their first look at the interior.

Scientists are interested in comets because they're icy leftovers from the formation of the solar system. Studying them could provide clues to how Earth and the planets formed 4.5 billion years ago.

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