The Rosetta Space Probe reaches the Comet
ROSETTA REACHES THE COMET:
Rosetta is a robotic space probe built and launched by the European Space Agency to perform a detailed study of comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. On 6 August 2014 it approached the comet to a distance of about 100 km and reduced its relative velocity to 1 m/s (3.3 ft/s), thus becoming the first spacecraft to rendezvous with a comet with the intention to enter orbit.
The adventure began March 2004, when a European Ariane 5 rocket lifted off from Kourou in French Guiana. During a circuitous ten-year trek across the Solar System, Rosetta crossed the asteroid belt and travelled into deep space, more than five times Earth’s distance from the Sun. Its destination the Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko and Rosetta now lie 405 million kilometres from Earth, about half way between the orbits of Jupiter and Mars, rushing towards the inner Solar System at nearly 55 000 kilometres per hour. The comet is in an elliptical 6.5-year orbit that takes it from beyond Jupiter at its furthest point, to between the orbits of Mars and Earth at its closest to the Sun. Rosetta will accompany it for over a year as they swing around the Sun and back out towards Jupiter again.
Comets are considered to be primitive building blocks of the Solar System and may have helped to ‘seed’ Earth with water, perhaps even the ingredients for life. But many fundamental questions about these enigmatic objects remain, and through a comprehensive,in situstudy of the comet, Rosetta aims to unlock the secrets within. The Rosetta orbiter will rendezvous with Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko and remain in close proximity to the icy nucleus as it plunges towards the warmer inner reaches of the Sun’s domain. At the same time, a small lander will be released onto the surface of this mysterious cosmic iceberg.
More than a year will pass before the remarkable mission draws to a close in December 2015. By then, both the spacecraft and the comet will have circled the Sun and be on their way out of the inner Solar System.The Rosetta mission will achieve many historic firsts.
- Rosetta will be the first spacecraft to orbit a comet’s nucleus.
- It will be the first spacecraft to fly alongside a comet as it heads towards the inner Solar System.
- Rosetta will be the first spacecraft to examine from close proximity how a frozen comet is transformed by the warmth of the Sun.
- Shortly after its arrival at Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, the Rosetta orbiter will despatch a robotic lander for the first controlled touchdown on a comet nucleus.
- The Rosetta lander’s instruments will obtain the first images from a comet’s surface and make the first in situ analysis to find out what it is made of.
- On its way to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, Rosetta will pass through the main asteroid belt, with the option to be the first European close encounter with one or more of these primitive objects.
- Rosetta will be the first spacecraft ever to fly close to Jupiter’s orbit using solar cells as its main power source.
- Scientists will be eagerly waiting to compare Rosetta’s results with previous studies by ESA’s Giotto spacecraft and by ground-based observatories. These have shown that comets contain complex organic molecules – compounds that are rich in carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen. Intriguingly, these are the elements which make up nucleic acids and amino acids, the essential ingredients for life as we know it. Did life on Earth begin with the help of comet seeding? Rosetta may help us to find the answer to this fundamental question.
SOURCE: European Space Agency