Wednesday, February 8, 2012

View From a Comet, a Probe to Land on a Comet by 2014, Video

View From a comet

The European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft is heading for a comet.

The ambitious mission — scheduled to enter orbit around Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in January of 2014 and place a tiny lander named Philae on its surface the following November — will no doubt return incredible, never-before-seen pictures. Until then, observers on Earth will have to make do with artists’ renderings like the ones in this video.

In past decades, about a dozen probes have performed comet flybys, sending back photographs of their nuclei. In 2005, NASA’s Deep Impact spacecraft shot a projectile that hit comet Temple 1.


But Rosetta and Philae will be the first mission to enter orbit around a comet and attempt a controlled landing onto its surface. The comet’s gravity is weak and its surface uneven, so Philae will shoot harpoons into the ground to help anchor it.

The probe will get to watch as the icy comet comes to life. Currently just a frozen ball of ice and dust, Churyumov-Gerasimenko will soon feel heat from the solar wind. Eventually, this radiation will melt the comet’s surface, generating a spectacular tail for Rosetta to observe.

The mission is named after the famed Rosetta stone, which allowed archeologists to decipher ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics. Since comets are frozen remnants from our solar system’s formation, researchers hope that the probe will help them understand how the planets came to be.

View From a Comet, a Probe to Land on a Comet by 2014, Video
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