It’s not Halo, but damn it’s cool! Landing on a Comet

 

Rosetta depiction. Image: ESA

Rosetta depiction. Image: ESA

 

In March of 2004 a robotic spacecraft named Rosetta was launched by the European Space Agency to catch up with and land on a comet. It’s set to meet part one of that goal in less than one month.

Rosetta is no stranger to exploration. Equipped with a variety of scientific imaging equipment, Rosetta has followed a 12 year flight-plan, utilizing gravity from Earth and Mars as a sling.

Here is a short video showing clearly showing how she’s followed the 12 year plan to match orbits with the comet.

 

 

During her flight, Rosetta has provided fantastic information and spectacular images of the journey. In 2007 she flew by Mars and here we can see with amazing clarity just how close that flyby was.

Photo: ESA

Rosetta flies over Mars. Photo: ESA Click to view full-size.

 

 

Here is an image of Mars caught by Rosetta in glorious Mars red “true color”, as will be seen by the naked eye some day when mankind stops by for a visit.

Photo: ESA

Photo: ESA

 

 

Using infrared and color filters to study Mars, scientists were able to clearly see a cloud system and study the planet’s atmospheric structures. Here are two images blown up at loss of color, showing clouds and dust in Mars’ atmosphere.

Photo: ESA

Photo: ESA

Photo: ESA

Photo: ESA

 

 

After Mars, it was time to practice studying a couple asteroids along the flight path. Astroid Steins is approximately 5 km in diameter. These images were taken from about 800 km away from the asteroid.

Photo: ESA

Photo: ESA

 

 

But it was Lutetia who had the glamour shots. Here we see her at closest approach.

Photo: ESA

Photo: ESA

 

 

Ever seen a crescent asteroid? Well now you have!

Asteroid_Lutetia_fullwidth

 

 

Here we see Lutetia at a distance of approximately 36,000 km from Rosetta, with Saturn looking minuscule but recognizable in the background.

Photo: ESA

Photo: ESA

 

 

Then it was time for Rosetta to go down for a 31 month nap. But Rosetta is waking up now and preparing for a new orbit, this one around her final destination: the comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko.

Here is an animation depicting Rosetta‘s orbit around the comet. It is not to scale, as her solar arrays are 32 meters total in length while the comet is approximately four kilometers in diameter.

 

 

As Rosetta enters phase two in November of 2014, her lander, Philae, will touch down on the comet and attach itself via harpoons.

Artist's rendering of Rosetta lowering Philae. Image: ESA

Artist’s rendering of Rosetta lowering Philae. Image: ESA

 

It’s feet will drill into the surface as it conducts studies on the material of the comet. Scientific measurements will be taken as the comet is followed along it’s orbit back around the sun and out towards Jupiter.

Rosetta Lander, Philae (depiction). Image: ESA

Rosetta Lander – Philae. Photo: ESA

 

Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko has an orbit of 6.45 years. Nothing is mentioned of whether Rosetta will continue to take images of space on her journey, or if attempts will be made to retrieve her or continue to harvest additional information when she passes back through.

But one thing is certain: if we land on this thing, it will be our first. And it is easy to imagine where we can go from there. Hollowed out asteroid-field communities, perhaps? Certainly one step closer to deflecting any dangerous comets that threaten our planet.

The future is now, my fellow homonids; the future is Now.

 

 

PS: Here is a gif courtesy of ESA of 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko as of July 14, as seen from the OSIRIS on Rosetta. Of course ESA will probably have gifs up showing the comet more and more clear as we get closer.

Image: ESA

Image: ESA

 

 

Links: European Space Agency,

Sources: Wikepedia – Rosetta (spacecraft), ESA – Beautiful Images from Rosetta, ESA – Rosetta’s Twelve-Year Journey, ESA – Rosetta’s Flybys, ESA – Rosetta’s Orbit Around the Comet, ESA – Philae Lander, ESA – Rosetta Overview

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