According to the
Rosetta, which conducted a flyby of the Asteroid Steins in 2008 and the Asteroid Lutetia in 2010, carries a suite of 11 different instruments designed to probe the past and current life story of its target comet.
"I'm crazy excited," said Southwest's
"We knew it was going to be exciting, of course, but there's nothing like being there. ... We can't bring the comet to a lab, so we're bringing the lab to the comet."
Alice is no larger than a shoebox, weighs less than 4 kilograms, draws on only 4 watts of power, but has 1,000 times the data-gathering capability of instruments flown a generation ago.
Alice's ability to see the ultraviolet range of light around the comet will enable scientists to read the unique fingerprints of atoms and molecules and measure gas and dust associated with the comet.
"That gas and dust is not only from the surface, but also comes from inside the comet," Parker said. "So by looking at what that gas and dust is made of -- for Alice it's mostly the gas -- that tells us what the inside of the comet is made of."
"The Rosetta investigation is designed to provide an unprecedented window into both the origin of comets and the way comets work," said SwRI's
Alice will look particularly closely at what are known as noble gases, such as helium, neon and argon, which Parker said can be utilized by scientists as "thermometers."
"They will freeze and they will melt at very distinct temperatures. So by looking at those types of gases, and when they come out of the comet, and how much there is of one compared to another, that will tell us, for instance, what temperature the comet might have formed at, and that will tell us where in the solar system the comet may have formed four and a half billion years ago."
Alice is the only instrument on Rosetta provided by SwRI. But Alice, along with the other science payload, together forms what Parker calls "
"We're using all these different methods to study the clues that can tell us about something that happened a long time ago, somewhere else."
Rosetta, after charting a circuitous route across the solar system, crossing the asteroid belt and traveling into deep space, will enter orbit around the icy comet at a distance more than five times Earth's distance from the sun.
While Rosetta project scientists consider
"How long the lander lasts depends on several things, but the minimum expected time is on the order of several days, a week or less," Parker said. "It could potentially last several months. The things that could mark the end of the lander could be, for instance, if too much dust covers the solar panels, so it can't recharge."
Also, it will not be able to survive as the comet draws closer and closer to the sun, reaching its nearest point in
But the deployment of the Rosetta lander won't by any means mark the end of the mission.
"It will basically escort the comet through at least December of 2015, possibly longer than that," Parker said. "The orbiter will continue to fly with the comet, we'll watch the comet turn on, and we'll watch it as it does its closest pass to the sun.
"And then, we'll watch the comet as it starts quieting down again. We've never watched a comet from this close. All the other comet missions have been flybys, like one-night stands. This is a long-term relationship."
Contact Camera Staff Writer
(c)2014 the Daily Camera (Boulder, Colo.)
Visit the Daily Camera (Boulder, Colo.) at www.dailycamera.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services