As Rosetta Nears its Rendezvous With a Comet, Use this Way Cool Interactive Model to See How it Got There

By Tom Yulsman | July 18, 2014 3:30 pm

The folks at Inove, creators of Solar System Scope, got in touch with me this morning to share their recent cool creation: an online, interactive, 3-D model of the Rosetta mission to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

The European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft has lately been going through a series of thruster burns to bring it to a final rendezvous with the comet on August 6th. At 1.9 by 3.1 miles in size, 67P is a relatively tiny chunk of dust and ice — making Rosetta’s coming meet-up after a journey of a decade and many millions of miles quite an amazing feat!

To see exactly how Rosetta has gotten there, check out the model above. You can also visit Solar System Scope (link above) and run the model there.

Here’s an animation of some of the latest images of the comet, acquired by Rosetta on July 14:


Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko was imaged on July 14,  2014 by OSIRIS, Rosetta’s scientific imaging system, from a distance of about 12,000 km (7,456 miles). This animation uses 36 images each acquired 20 minutes apart, providing a 360° preview of the complex shape of the comet. (Source: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA)

The plan is for Rosetta to orbit for two months — which would be a first — all the while examining the comet’s surface. And in early November it will release a lander named Philae, which is supposed to touch down on the comet’s surface to carry out detailed scientific analyses. That would be another first.

The goal is to better understand the origin and evolution of the solar system. As ESA describes it:

The comet’s composition reflects the composition of the pre-solar nebula out of which the Sun and the planets of the Solar System formed, more than 4.6 billion years ago. Therefore, an in-depth analysis of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko by Rosetta and its lander will provide essential information to understand how the Solar System formed.

And here is how Philae will carry out its measurements:

The 10 instruments on board the lander will do an on-the-spot analysis of the composition and structure of the comet’s surface and subsurface material. A drilling system will obtain samples down to 23 cm below the surface and will feed these to the spectrometers for analysis, such as to determine thechemical composition. Other instruments will measure properties such as near-surface strength, density, texture, porosity, ice phases and thermal properties. Microscopic studies of individual grains will tell us about the texture. In addition, instruments on the lander will study how the comet changes during the day-night cycle, and while it approaches the Sun.

I’m really looking forward to Rosetta’s final rendezvous on Aug. 6th, and I’m planning to post updates and images in the run-up. So check back.

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ImaGeo is a visual blog focusing on the intersection of imagery, imagination and Earth. It focuses on spectacular visuals related to the science of our planet, with an emphasis (although not an exclusive one) on the unfolding Anthropocene Epoch.

About Tom Yulsman

Tom Yulsman is Director of the Center for Environmental Journalism and a Professor of Journalism at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He also continues to work as a science and environmental journalist with more than 30 years of experience producing content for major publications. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Audubon, Climate Central, Columbia Journalism Review, Discover, Nieman Reports, and many other publications. He has held a variety of editorial positions over the years, including a stint as editor-in-chief of Earth magazine. Yulsman has written one book: Origins: the Quest for Our Cosmic Roots, published by the Institute of Physics in 2003.


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