The Rosetta Space Probe 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.

Rosetta orbiter deploying the Philae lander to comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko: Artists Impression

Rosetta orbiter deploying the Philae lander to comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko: Artists Impression


Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko

Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko

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

About DPS Bloggers

Delhi Public School Blogger.

Posted on August 8, 2014, in News from the Cosmos, News from the Solar System, Videos. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Sir but why around a comet? How will that help??

    • Water and the ingredients required for Life are believed to have been delivered on earth by comets and asteroids so it is important to study them. However, any study of the Cosmos removes ignorance amongst us. Please read an article by an expert from JPL.

      Why Study Comets?

      Life on Earth began at the end of a period called the late heavy bombardment, some 3.8 billion years ago. Before this time, the influx of interplanetary debris that formed the Earth was so strong that the proto-Earth was far too hot for life to have formed. Under this heavy bombardment of asteroids and comets, the early Earth’s oceans vaporized and the fragile carbon-based molecules, upon which life is based, could not have survived. The earliest known fossils on Earth date from 3.5 billion years ago and there is evidence that biological activity took place even earlier – just at the end of the period of late heavy bombardment. So the window when life began was very short. As soon as life could have formed on our planet, it did. But if life formed so quickly on Earth and there was little in the way of water and carbon-based molecules on the Earth’s surface, then how were these building blocks of life delivered to the Earth’s surface so quickly? The answer may involve the collision of comets with the Earth, since comets contain abundant supplies of both water and carbon-based molecules.
      As the primitive, leftover building blocks of the outer solar system formation process, comets offer clues to the chemical mixture from which the giant planets formed some 4.6 billion years ago. If we wish to know the composition of the primordial mixture from which the major planets formed, then we must determine the chemical constituents of the leftover debris from this formation process – the comets. Comets are composed of significant fractions of water ice, dust, and carbon-based compounds. Since their orbital paths often cross that of the Earth, cometary collisions with the Earth have occurred in the past and additional collisions are forthcoming. It is not a question of whether a comet will strike the Earth, it is a question of when the next one will hit. It now seems likely that a comet struck near the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico some 65 million years ago and caused a massive extinction of more than 75% of the Earth’s living organisms, including the dinosaurs.

      Comets have this strange duality whereby they first brought the building blocks of life to Earth some 3.8 billion years ago and subsequent cometary collisions may have wiped out many of the developing life forms, allowing only the most adaptable species to evolve further. Indeed, we may owe our preeminence at the top of Earth’s food chain to cometary collisions. A catastrophic cometary collision with the Earth is only likely to happen at several million year intervals on average, so we need not be overly concerned with a threat of this type. However, it is prudent to mount efforts to discover and study these objects, to characterize their sizes, compositions and structures and to keep an eye upon their future trajectories.

      As with asteroids, comets are both a potential threat and a potential resource for the colonization of the solar system in the twenty first century. Whereas asteroids are rich in the mineral raw materials required to build structures in space, the comets are rich resources for the water and carbon-based molecules necessary to sustain life. In addition, an abundant supply of cometary water ice can provide copious quantities of liquid hydrogen and oxygen, the two primary ingredients in rocket fuel. One day soon, comets may serve as fueling stations for interplanetary spacecraft.

      Don Yeomans

      Jet Propulsion Lab

  2. Sir…but why only this nebula……

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