Saturday, February 14, 2015

UPDATED Close Encounter of the Cometary Kind

Hey Space Placers!


Here is the link to the first photos of the flyby. Pretty amazing!


The European Space Agency (ESA) successfully maneuvered their Rosetta spacecraft to a 6 kilometer (less than 4 miles) close flyby of the periodic Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko - Comet 67P for short - this Valentine’s Day at 7:41 a.m. EST. The spacecraft passed over the larger lobe of the twin lobed comet, called the Imhotep region.

ESA Photo of Comet 67P Taken on 2/6/15

The flyby is Rosetta’s closest approach yet to the comet and will collect scientific data and take an amazing collection of photographs that should be available to the world on Monday. I can hardly wait for the detail on these pictures because what we have seen so far have been better than any science fiction depiction of the surface of a comet - remember the movies Armageddon and Deep Impact?

Rosetta was launched in March 2004 and made 3 flybys of Earth and 1 of Mars to pick up enough speed to intercept Comet 67P last August and entered into orbit around the comet. Its Philae lander detached and landed on the surface of the comet last November and endeared itself to humanity with Tweets and amazing scientific feats of discovery.

Rosetta will give us our best view and data ever of a comet, a leftover from the formation of the solar system 4.6 billion years ago, Comets contain the original material of our solar system, the elements, molecules, gas, dust and ices that weren't used in making the planets or dwarf planets.

What sets Rosetta apart from previous cometary missions of the past is that for the first time we will orbit a comet and land on it instead of a one and done flyby mission. What is really thrilling to me is that we will have an up close and personal view of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko transforming from an inert icy dirt ball into a full fledged active comet spewing off gas and dust due to the intense heat of the Sun. 

As the Rosetta mission progresses we will see how the comet changes as it approaches the Sun, begins to heat up, passes closest to the Sun in August 2015 and then begins to shutdown as it zooms away. An array of instruments are on the orbiter and lander, including 3 from NASA that are gathering a treasure trove of never before acquired data and pictures during these critical stages in the life cycle of a comet’s journey around the Sun. 

Already Rosetta has rekindled the debate about comets being the source of water for Earth’s oceans. Rosetta’s analysis of the water vapor coming from Comet 67P did not match that of the water in Earth’s oceans. It now seems likely that asteroids were the source of the water in our Earth’s oceans. The upcoming rendezvous of NASA’s Dawn Mission with the dwarf planet Ceres in the asteroid belt may provide more answers.

There are over a trillion comets and millions of their believed to be siblings, asteroids, in the solar system. The more we learn about them the more we learn about our origins. It is possible that comets and asteroids seeded the primitive Earth with the necessary precursors for life. We know that comets and asteroids have impacted the Earth in the past and will do so again in the future so anything and everything we can learn about them is beneficial not only for science but survival as well.

 You can follow Rosetta too via the @ESA_Rosetta Twitter account.


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