Courtesy ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDARosetta - a spacecraft launched over ten years ago by the European Space Agency (ESA) - finally reached its goal yesterday, aligning and syching itself up with the orbital path of a comet (67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko) speeding around the Sun.
During the course of its trajectory, Rosetta utilized the gravity of both Earth and Mars in several slingshot maneuvers to accelerate and help hurdle the spacecraft toward its destination. The comet is traveling toward the sun at 34,175 mph. After a high-speed chase across nearly 4 billion miles (6.4 billion kilometers) of interplanetary space Rosetta had to slam on its brakes over the past to months to reduce its speed (relative to the comet) to just under 2 miles per hour.
"This arrival phase in fact is the most complex and exotic trajectory that we have ever seen," said Jean-Yves Le Gall, head of the French Space Agency CNES.
Courtesy ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDAThe spacecraft will spend the next year or so collecting data and photographing the comet which is roughly 2 miles in diameter and shaped somewhat like a duck. Comets are thought to be composed of the same nebular material present when the Sun and planets first formed more than 4.6 billion years ago. Rosetta will help increase our knowledge of the solar system's beginnings.
This coming November ESA engineers will command Rosetta's lander, Philae, to set down on the comet's surface to collect even more data, a feat never before attempted. That will certainly be worth watching.
Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech/UMDThe following is from a listserv I am on that I thought was interesting.
On February 14, NASA's Stardust-NExT (New Exploration of Tempel 1) mission will encounter Comet Tempel 1, providing a unique opportunity to measure the dust properties of two separate comets (Wild 2 and Tempel 1) with the same instrument for accurate data comparison. The encounter will also provide a comparison between two observations of a single comet, Tempel 1, taken before and after a single orbital pass around the sun.
NASA's Stardust spacecraft will fly within 200 kilometers (about 124 miles) of Comet Tempel 1 on February 14, 2011, at about 8:36 p.m. Pacific Standard Time.
NASA's Deep Impact mission observed Comet Tempel 1 in the summer of 2005, as the comet was inbound toward the Sun on its approximately 5.5-year orbit between Mars and Jupiter. Deep Impact's primary mission was to deliver a special impactor spacecraft into the path of Comet Tempel 1. The spacecraft -- and many ground-based observers -- observed the impact and the ejected material. Scientists were surprised the cloud was composed of a fine, powdery material, not the expected water, ice, and dirt. The spacecraft did find the first evidence of surface ice on the surface of a comet instead of just inside a comet.
The Stardust-NExT mission is a low-cost use of an in-flight spacecraft redirected to a new target. Prior to its tasking for Tempel 1, the Stardust spacecraft successfully flew through the cloud of dust that surrounds the nucleus of comet Wild 2 in Jan. 2004. The particles of cometary material and gathered during this flyby were then returned to Earth aboard a sample return capsule which landed in the Utah desert in January 2006.
Courtesy NASA, ESA, and H. Weaver (The Johns Hopkins University/Applied Physics Lab) Periodic comet 103P/Hartley 2is currently visible high in the evening sky. Learn more here.
I love Earth & Sky radio's skywatching center. It always features tonight's sky chart and weather, plus skywatching tips and any news. Find out when the moon will rise, what phase of the moon we're in, and where visible planets will be in the sky and when you should look. Plus, it's packed with links to other resources, like interviews with scientists and web planetariums. And you can blog! Check it out...
An impressive display of meteors will move across the sky on Friday, August 12, (2005) when the Perseid meteor shower becomes most visible. Peak viewing times will be from 2 a.m. until sunrise that morning, according to NASA experts. Because of interference from urban lights, viewing is best outside of the city. The Perseid meteor shower occurs every summer, when the tail behind Comet Swift-Tuttle intersects with Earth's orbit, causing comet dust to enter Earth's atmosphere. Meteors from the comet travel from the direction of the constellation Perseus, which gives the shower its name.