Spacecraft Meets Comet

The European Space Agency announced that the Rosetta probe, launched in 2004, has reached Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. The comet is currently between Jupiter and Mars, 405 million kilometers away from us, on its way to swing around the sun in its elliptical 6.5-year orbit.

“After ten years, five months and four days travelling towards our destination, looping around the Sun five times and clocking up 6.4 billion kilometres, we are delighted to announce finally ‘we are here’,” says Jean-Jacques Dordain, ESA’s Director General.

“Europe’s Rosetta is now the first spacecraft in history to rendezvous with a comet, a major highlight in exploring our origins. Discoveries can start.”

Today saw the last of a series of ten rendezvous manoeuvres that began in May to adjust Rosetta’s speed and trajectory gradually to match those of the comet. If any of these manoeuvres had failed, the mission would have been lost, and the spacecraft would simply have flown by the comet.

The Rosetta mission is slated to spend a year with the comet on its orbit. Meanwhile, Rosetta is sending back amazing pictures of the comet, which may surprise you. Images taken from a distance of 12,000 kilometers show two main spheres connected by a “neck.”

“Our first clear views of the comet have given us plenty to think about,” says Matt Taylor, ESA’s Rosetta project scientist.

“Is this double-lobed structure built from two separate comets that came together in the Solar System’s history, or is it one comet that has eroded dramatically and asymmetrically over time? Rosetta, by design, is in the best place to study one of these unique objects.”

The probe is currently 100 kilometers from the comet, and will go even closer on its mission. See more pictures of Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko at the ESA gallery.

(Image credit: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA)


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