How ‘bout we chase down a comet…
How about we chase down a comet for 10 years and over 6 billion kilometers, orbit it and then land on it!
On August 6 of this year, the Rosetta space probe finally caught up with Comet 67P / Churyumov–Gerasimenko.
Rosetta will accompany the comet around the Sun and as it moves back out towards the orbit of Jupiter. The lander, Philae, will land on the comet’s surface in November of 2014. Oh yeah, not only did we catch this thing but we’re going to land on it. Well more like harpoon the lander to it.
Rosetta was launched on March 2, 2004 from Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana by the ESA (European Space Agency). To gain speed and momentum, the space craft passed Earth three times and Mars once on its quest to catch comet 67P/C-G.
The spacecraft has already performed two asteroid fly-by missions as well as sending pictures of Mars during a fly-by in 2007.
Rosetta went into deep-space hibernation for 31 months while it traveled the most distant part of its journey out to the orbit of Jupiter. The spacecraft was taken out of its 31-month hibernation mode on January 20 of this year (2014) and continued towards the comet. During the next few months a series of thruster burns slowed Rosetta relative to 67P/C-G, and Rosetta rendezvoused with the comet on August 6, 2014.
Although humanity has achieved something never done before, placing a spacecraft in orbit around a comet, it isn’t stopping there. The ESA is going to land on the comet! The lander, Philae, will be delivered to the comet’s surface in November 2014. Rosetta will accompany the comet around the Sun and as it moves back out towards the orbit of Jupiter.
Rosetta will be the first spacecraft to witness what happens to a comet up close and personal when traveling through space where radiation from the Sun increases. When the Sun heats the comet enough for it to develop a corona and tail, hopefully Rosetta will return its most interesting pictures yet.
Astronomers hypothesize that comets may have played an important role in distributing life throughout the solar system. Maybe even bringing water to Earth to kick start life.
To explore that hypothesis, the eventual goal is for Rosetta to deliver its payload, the Philae lander. Philae will harpoon itself to the comet in order to manage the low gravity. Much like Bruce Willis, the lander will drill, but for the purpose of scientific analysis rather than to save humanity from extinction.
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