The Rosetta space probe has reached the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko

Picture of the nucleus of the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko taken by the Rosetta space probe (Image ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA)
Picture of the nucleus of the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko taken by the Rosetta space probe (Image ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA)

The Rosetta space probe has just completed the last series of maneuvers that brought it into the orbit of the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. This stage of the Rosetta mission started some time ago and in recent weeks it sent images and other data that were very interesting but now, after more than 10 years of traveling, the main phase of its mission is starting.

The force of gravity of the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko is very low because it has a length of only about 5 km (about 3 miles) so the maneuvers depended mainly on Rosetta’s propellers. However, it’s sufficient to attract significantly the spacecraft and in the upcoming maneuvers will be measured with precision and will be taken into account, also while moving the lander Philae.

Deep space missions are based on long-term plans but Rosetta is really extraordinary from this point of view as well. This spacecraft traveled the solar system for more than 10 years, passing close to Mars and making the early stages of its mission flying by two asteroids in 2008 and 2010 but now is the time to start the most important phase of its mission studying closely the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

This study will be carried out over the next few months and the first part includes preparation for the landing of the Philae lander. The Rosetta space probe will create a map of the comet’s nucleus, a task that will help to gain a better understanding of its characteristics and also to find the best landing site for Philae.

The very irregular shape of the nucleus of the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko makes it particularly interesting but at the same time makes it difficult to find a suitable place for the landing of Philae. There’s no hurry because the lander is scheduled to land in November 2014 so there’s plenty of time to find a suitable place.

Today for ESA it’s a day of celebration and Rosetta’s rendezvous with the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko is celebrated with a meeting and the streaming of the event. It’s an important mission because in comets there may be some of the keys to understand the evolution of the solar system in its early stages of life and not just that. One of the most important elements of the mission will be the search for organic compounds in the comet to see if those cosmic objects may have affected the emergence of life on Earth.

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