To Boldly Go Where No Man Has Gone Before

Those were the words of Capt. Kirk from the 60’s TV show “Star Trek: The Original Series” and they are still relevant today. The technological advances allowed us to land on the moon, we will soon embark on our first one-way mission to colonise Mars and in two days the first spacecraft in history is going to orbit a comet.


 

This space mission is called “Rosetta” – Europe’s comet chaser – and is named after the famous Rosetta Stone. Discovered in 1799 by French soldiers near the village of Rashid (Egypt), the 762-kilogram volcanic basalt stone can nowadays be found at the British Museum in London. The stone was a breakthrough in history as it provided the key to the modern understanding of Egyptian hieroglyphs. Just like the Rosetta Stone provided the key to an ancient civilisation, so will ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft unlock the mysteries of the oldest building blocks of our Solar System – the comets.

Rosetta Stone - Image Credit: ESA

Rosetta Stone – Image Credit: ESA

The ESA (European Space Agency) launched mission “Rosetta” in 2004 to unravel the secrets of these mysterious cosmic icebergs. Rosetta made a ten-year trek across the Solar System, clocking up more than 6 billion kilometres! It crossed the asteroid belt, passed by the sun five times, travelled out to the orbit of Jupiter and was put into deep-space hibernation for over 2 1/2 years, waking up in January this year for the final leg of its epic journey.

Rosetta is making use of several gravitational ‘kicks’: one at Mars and three at Earth. Image Credit: ESA, image by AOES Medialab

Rosetta is making use of several gravitational ‘kicks’: one at Mars and three at Earth. Image Credit: ESA, image by AOES Medialab

On 6th August from 09:30 CEST, Rosetta will finally ‘rendezvous’ with the comet. The goal is to match the pace of the comet – currently some 55 000 km/h – and travel alongside it. The operation consists of 10 different maneuvers, which began in early May and will conclude with a final engine burn on Wednesday.

Rosetta at comet - Artist’s impression of the Rosetta orbiter (image is not to scale), Image Credit: ESA–C. Carreau/ATG medialab

Rosetta at comet – Artist’s impression of the Rosetta orbiter (image is not to scale), Image Credit: ESA–C. Carreau/ATG medialab

The climax will be in November, when the mothership drops a lander called “Philae probe” onto the surface of the comet. Over an entire year, as it approaches the Sun, Rosetta will orbit the comet, mapping its surface and studying changes in its activity. This will provide scientists with an insight into the history of the solar system and help to discover the origin of comets.

The periodic comet “67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko”, believed to originate in The Kuiper Belt (home to Pluto), was first discovered in 1969 and is a regular visitor to the inner Solar System, orbiting the Sun once every 6.5 years between the orbits of Jupiter and Earth. Recent observations have shown that it is two-lobed in the shape of a ‘rubber duck’ and average surface temperature is about -70°C (-94°F).

Rotating view of comet on 14 July 2014 Image Credit: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

Rotating view of comet on 14 July 2014 Image Credit: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

Comet on 30 April 2014. Globular cluster M107 also clearly visible in the field of view. Image Credit: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

Comet on 30 April 2014. Globular cluster M107 also clearly visible in the field of view. Image Credit: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

 

You can tune in live on Wednesday 6th August from 09:30 CEST and watch this historic moment: www.livestream.com/eurospaceagency / www.esa.int/rosetta

Further information on ESA’s missions including Rosetta can be found here:

ESA missions

Rosetta’s comet rendezvous

Rosetta’s twelve-year journey in space

 


 

I have to say I am super excited about this and find it amazing how far we have come in technology and understanding the universe. Who said science is boring? 🙂

M

 

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