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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 Spacecraft

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.

Mars from Rosetta

Mars from Rosetta

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.

Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko was imaged on 14 July 2014 by OSIRIS, Rosetta’s scientific imaging system

Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko was imaged on 14 July 2014 by OSIRIS, Rosetta’s scientific imaging system

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.


While taking the above photo, the Rosetta spacecraft was just 65 miles (104 kilometers) away from the 2.5-mile-wide (four-kilometer) comet 67P. NASA points out that the comet has three zones: the head (top), neck (narrow middle part), and body (bottom). Thanks to the up-close angle of the image, you can see the variety of topography throughout each zone. The head prominently displays cliff-like structures, the neck shows a relatively smooth surface with boulders scattered about, and the body largely shows peaks and valleys spread throughout both smooth and rough terrain. Basically, big, icy space rocks are just like less icy terrestrial rocks.

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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2 thoughts on “How ‘bout we chase down a comet…

  1. Thanks. fascinating and informative. regards Thom

  2. Reblogged this on This Day in Tech History and commented:

    Remember back 10 years ago when the European Space Agency launched the Rosetta space probe? It would take a decade to catch and orbit comet 67P?
    Well today, Philae, Rosetta’s lander, successfully touched down on comet 67P. From Rosetta’s tweet:
    ESA Rosetta Mission @ESA_Rosetta Well done my friend! RT @Philae2014: Touchdown! My new address: 67P! #CometLanding

    It looks like Philae touched down almost perfectly except for an unplanned bounce… doink! The harpoons that were supposed to anchor the lander did not deploy properly, fortunately there was a redundant system that literally screwed the landers legs into the comet. Initial data from the spacecraft showed that it landed, lifted off again, turned and landed again coming to a rest…whew!
    With Rosetta in its orbit Philae with ride the comet as it races past the sun becoming more active as it warms up.
    See previous blog:

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