News Column

Europe - Rosetta space probe makes historic rendezvous with comet

August 6, 2014

FRANCE 24



European scientists announced the historic rendezvous on Wednesday between a comet and the Rosetta spacecraft after a 10-year, six billion-kilometre (3.7-billion-mile) chase through the solar system.

The scout Rosetta has now become the first envoy to orbit one of these wanderers of the solar system in deep space, the European Space Agency (ESA) said.

Scientists and spectators at ESA's mission control in Darmstadt, Germany, cheered after the spacecraft successfully completed its final thrust to swing alongside comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

ESA chief Jean-Jacques Dordain says the probe's rendezvous with 67P is an important milestone in Rosetta's life.

The goal of the mission is to orbit 67P from a distance of about 100 kilometres (60 miles) and observe the giant ball of dust and ice as it hurtles toward the sun. If all goes according to plan, Rosetta will drop the first ever lander, a robot chemistry lab, onto a comet in November.

Scientists hope this will help them learn more about the origins of comets, stars and planets.

Orbital entry was triggered by a small firing of her thrusters, lasting just six minutes and 26 seconds, starting at 0900 GMT on Wednesday, it said.

"This burn will tip Rosetta into the first leg of a series of three-legged triangular paths about the comet," it said.

Top officials from ESA will be were at mission control in Darmstadt, Germany, waiting for the signals to start and stop this crucial final operation to be safely received by ground monitoring stations, 22 minutes later.

The "pyramidal" orbits will put the craft at a height of about 100 kilometres (60 miles) above the comet, said Sylvain Lodiot, Rosetta's flight operations manager. Each leg of the triangle will be around 100 kilometres and take Rosetta between three and four days to complete.

The arrival will mark a key moment of the boldest project ever undertaken by ESA—a 1.3-billion-euro ($1.76-billion) investigation into one of the enigmas of the solar system.

Comets are believed by astrophysicists to be ancient ice and dust left from the building of the solar system around 4.6 billion years ago. This cosmic rubble is the oldest, least touched material in our stellar neighbourhood.

Understanding its chemical ID identity and physical composition will give insights into how the planets coalesced after the sun flared into light, it is hoped.

t could also determine the fate of a theory called "pan-spermia," which suggests comets, by smashing into the infant Earth, sowed our home with water and precious organic molecules, providing us with a kickstart for life.

Navigational feat

Rosetta was poised to meet up with Comet "C-G" more than 400 million kilometres from where it was launched.

Getting there has been an unprecedented navigational exploit. Launched in March 2004, the three-tonne craft has had to make four flybys of Mars and Earth, using their gravitational force as a slingshot to build up speed.

It then entered a 31-month hibernation as light from the distant Sun became too weak for its solar panels. That period ended in January with a wake-up call sent from Earth.

The spacecraft is named after the famous stone, now in the British Museum, that explained Egyptian hieroglyphics, while its payload Philae is named after an obelisk that in turn helped decipher the Rosetta stone.

The four-kilometre comet is named after two Ukrainian astronomers who first spotted it in 1969.



(FRANCE24 with AP and AFP)


 





More videos available on http://www.france24.com/en


For more stories covering the world of technology, please see HispanicBusiness' Tech Channel



Source: FRANCE 24


Story Tools






HispanicBusiness.com Facebook Linkedin Twitter RSS Feed Email Alerts & Newsletters