Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Rosetta meets Comet

Artist's depiction of the landing.

Today, the European Space Agency completed a mission they started ten years and four billion miles ago.  The spacecraft Rosetta landed a probe the size of a washing machine on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.  Since the comet is moving at about 24,000 miles an hour, scientists have said this mission is about as hard as "trying to land a fly on a speeding bullet."

A simulated picture of Rosetta launching the probe towards the comet.
On the journey to meet up with the comet, Rosetta circled the solar system several times, using the gravity of Earth and Mars to boost the spacecraft's speed to match the comet.  This video illustrates where Rosetta has been for the past ten years.

To secure the lander probe, harpoons will shoot into the comet's surface and anchor it.

Once the probe, named Philae, is securely attached to the comet, it will start transmitting video and scientific data about the comet's composition back to the command center in Germany.  It takes about seven hours for the data to travel at the speed of light from the comet back to Earth. For now, we have some awesome photos and simulations of Rosetta's approach to the comet.