After a 4-Billion-Mile Journey, the Rosetta Probe is Less than a Day Away from Historic Rendezvous With a Comet

By Tom Yulsman | August 5, 2014 11:16 am
rendezvous

The Rosetta space probe captured this image of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on August 4, 2014 from a distance of about 234 kilometers (145 miles). The spacecraft is less than a day away from its final rendezvous. (Please click the image for a spectacular closeup view of the comet’s surface. Source: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM)

The Rosetta spacecraft is poised to make history.

If all continues to go well, it will complete its rendezvous with comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko at 8 GMT tomorrow, Aug. 6 (4 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time), and settle into orbit.

This would be a first: No spacecraft has ever orbited a comet before.

Rosetta is now closer to the comet than the International Space Station is to the surface of Earth — and the image above shows that the view is already quite spectacular. The spacecraft’s NAVCAM camera acquired the image yesterday.

As the video above shows, after a 10-year journey across billions of miles of space, it has taken a balletic series of maneuvers, choreographed by controllers at the European Space Agency, to bring Rosetta to this point. Now, all that remains is one last thruster burn intended to slow the spacecraft and settle it into orbit around the comet. (For details, check out this post from the official Rosetta mission blog. Also, for an online, interactive, 3-D model of the Rosetta mission, check out my earlier post here.)

Why go to all this trouble?

Comets formed far from the sun about 4.6 billion years ago, before planets had coalesced. They consist of material that’s believed to be relatively pristine. Thus, by studying comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, scientists hope to gain valuable insights into the origin and evolution of the solar system, including our own planet.

The plan is for Rosetta to examine the comet’s surface from orbit for two months. Then, in early November, Rosetta is scheduled to release a lander named Philae, which is designed to touch down on the comet’s surface to carry out detailed scientific analyses.

I’m looking forward to more of Rosetta’s images. I’ll post them here, so please check back.

  • Adrian Tapia

    Amazing what all the hard work …computations ..human scientific ingenuity that has gone to reach this point in our quest to gain valuable knowledge of our universe ..and of comets!!

  • Buddy199

    Any idea how big the comet is?

    • Tom Yulsman

      It simply boggles my mind. And I was a kid when we landed on the moon, so when it comes to space exploration, it takes quite a lot to do that!

  • Sara Stockton

    this is amazing. i cant wait hear from you what the lander discovers..please keep us posted on FB and other media social groups..

  • JarredJ

    Sorry to interrupt but I have a channel with some friends and think you might want to check it out if you like Anime, Manga, Animations, Gameplays, Live Action and just randomness :P
    Here is the link: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC9vm5AmRVRG8VNRwtXrGj5g

  • Akis Karoussis

    I would like to see the scientific analyses in November.

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ImaGeo

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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