This Wednesday, the European Space Agency (ESA) will attempt to land a robot on a chunk of dirty ice flying through our solar system at over 30,000 miles per hour.
This phenomenal mission began in 2004 when the Rosetta spacecraft was launched from the ESA spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. Rosetta’s mission is composed of two incredible firsts: first mission to orbit a comet and first mission to attempt to land on a comet. After a long, winding path through the inner solar system to pick up enough speed, Rosetta accomplished the first of these goals this past August when it rendezvoused with Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko (67P/C-G), no small feat in itself. This week Rosetta will attempt to accomplish its second (and even more technically challenging) goal of releasing a robotic lander to descend to the comet’s surface.
The selected landing site, christened Agilkia, is located on the smaller of the two lumps that seem to make up 67/C-G. Some theorize that this comet may actually be two separate comets that fused together after a collision. The landing itself will take place autonomously, since the comet is currently 28 light-minutes away from Earth, still in the outskirts of the solar system. In the wee small hours of Wednesday morning, mission control will decide if the landing is a go. If so, the lander, Philae, will be released from Rosetta and start its seven‐hour journey to the comet below. This is all kinds of crazy, since comets are in no way spherical objects like planets. Comets are asymmetric rocks with protrusions and craters galore, not to mention random pockets of frozen gas that could sublimate into outbursts at any time. ESA scientist chose this landing site as a compromise between the most interesting, yet most stable location.
If they pull this off, it will be a thrilling moment for space scientists and rocket scientists alike, not to mention anyone who’s a fan of exploration. You can find out more about the mission here, and more about the future plans for both Rosetta and Philae as they ride along with 67P/C-G on its way around the Sun here. And on the big day, NASA TV will provide live coverage of the landing attempt from 9:00 A.M. to 11:30 A.M.
Until then, I leave you with this aspirational and inspiration video produced by ESA on why we explore and more importantly why we want to explore comets like 67P/C-G specifically.
Here’s more inspirational geek for your week:
- Remote-controlled robotic penguin infiltrates penguin colony for science.
- Bats found to jam sonar of other bats when competing for food.
- Scientists penetrate the brains of jumping spiders and find they are uber smart (not something those of you with arachnophobia probably want to hear).
- Gorgeous animated GIF comparing the respiratory process in humans, birds, and grasshoppers.
- Speaking of respiration, the reason we have air to breathe on Earth is due to plate tectonics.
- Math equations as beautiful animated visualizations. [INTERACTIVE]
- The science of making tattoos that stand the test of time. [VIDEO]
- Can some people really sense changes in the weather in their bones? Maybe.
- Animation showing Jupiter’s gravitational effect on the orbits of objects in the asteroid belt. Full list of animations and visualization here.
- Fascinating read on how the industrial revolution brought particle physics and cosmology together.
Keep on geeking! @Summer_Ash