Around the pink- and red-hued madness of overpriced flowers and heart-shaped everything that is Valentine's Day, even a rocket man1 needs a little love.2 Unfortunately for NASA, the Stardust spacecraft beamed down an unexpected photo of its intended Valentine, the potato-shaped comet Tempel 1. (And no wonder - what girl wants to be photographed if she's told she has the figure of a potato?)

Instead of a space age love song3, scientists received the a photo of a tiny speck:

Going to a wide-zoom lens doesn't really add much to the context, but here's a photo from about 3 days before the star-crossed space objects were destined to meet:

Talk about a shot through the heart - the twinkle, twinkle, little star-looking speck in the middle is Stardust's fair Juliet.4,5 Mission control heard a faint song from the forlorn spacecraft: "You're my little potato..."6

Even a photo of a speck is great, right? And besides, you don't have to be picture perfect to be in my world.7 But this wasn't just a few space cowboys8 huddled around a monitor, this was an intergalactic9 media experience. The agency hosted several live media activities for the Stardust-NExT mission's close encounter with comet Tempel 1, according to AP, and "had planned to wow the world by playing back the images in reverse order, starting with five close-up shots of Tempel 1's nucleus. Instead, the first images to pop up on scientists' computer screens showed the comet as a tiny speck."

Oops. After this total eclipse of the heart,10 the agency said it would take several hours for everything to download. People around the globe signed off from Twitter and other social media sites after the six high-res photos failed to appear as planned. "How about them French fried potaters?" sighed one scientist.11 Another was overheard pleading, "Stardust, unbreak my heart!"12

Once they arrive, these photos will make history - they mark the first time a comet has been revisited to observe changes on comet’s surface after one orbit around the Sun (5.5 years), says NASA. NASA scientists also hope to get a picture of the crater made by the Deep Impact mission nearly 6 years ago. In 2005 the Deep Impact spacecraft launched a copper bullet at the comet but the resulting dust cloud obscured the view.

"Stardust-NExT might get a glimpse of the crater left behind, but if not, the comet would provide scientists with previously unseen areas for study," NASA says.

Here's the space spud's "before impact" photo from 2005:

And here's the sequence of photos taken during the impact on July 3:

Talk about fireworks.13

Images should appear here when they're posted by NASA.

Hat tip to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory for this blog post, which inspired my song-riddled article.
1 Elton John
2 Hannah Montana, featuring Sheryl Crow
3 Flock of Seagulls
4 Bon Jovi
5 Nursery rhyme
6 Malcolm Dalglish
7 Michael W. Smith
8 The Steve Miller Band
9 Beastie Boys
10 Bonnie Tyler
11 Karl in Sling Blade. Not a song but come on, it's about potatoes...
12 Toni Braxton
13 Katy Perry