News / Science & Technology

Rosetta Probe Meets Comet After Decade-Long Chase

Artist view of the Rosetta spacecraft. Rosetta’s lander, Philae, is attached and is shown in blue (© ESA/J. Huart)
Artist view of the Rosetta spacecraft. Rosetta’s lander, Philae, is attached and is shown in blue (© ESA/J. Huart)
VOA News

It's a proud moment for the Paris-based European Space Agency (ESA).

After a decade-long six-billion-kilometer chase, its Rosetta orbiter made history Wednesday, finally catching up with Comet 67P halfway between the orbits of Jupiter and Mars.

The ESA's $1.7 billion probe is the first spacecraft to rendezvous with a comet.

After entering orbit 100 kilometers above the surface of the 67P/Churymov-Gerasimenko comet early Wednesday morning, at a distance of more than 400 million kilometers from Earth, images soon emerged that showed the vessel heading toward a massive rock spinning in the starry dark.

Rosetta will escort Comet 67P for the next year and observe it as it heads towards the sun. The highlight of the mission will come in November, when Rosetta will release a small probe that will attempt to land on Comet 67P — the first ever spacecraft to accomplish such a feat.

For recently retired mission manager Gerhard Schwem — reached by phone from ESA's operations center in Germany — Rosetta's rendezvous on Wednesday is not only a first in space history, but a career milestone.

"For me it's a great day," he said. "I've been working on this cometary cornerstone, as it’s called in the agency, since '85. It's the span my professional career ... so it's quite great that I started with something that's now basically accomplished."

For Dr. Stephan Ulamec, Rosetta Project Manager, the landmark achievement, for all of its technological sophistication, is about addressing very basic questions.

"The challenge is that we know almost nothing about the comet, and we knew even less when we built the probe," he said. "We didn't know how the surface [of the comet] looks like, whether it is soft or hard like ice. The day-night cycle is fairly known. But until recently we didn't even know what the comet looks like, what shape it has.

"And that is the big difference to missions where we land on the moon or on Mars, where we have a pretty good notion of the body we intend to land on," he added.

Scientists believe comets contain the origins of life on Earth — the Rosetta probe is named after the stone that helped unlock the hieroglyphic language of the ancient Egyptians — delivering water and other essential components as they slammed into the planet's surface.

According to Schwem, the project's ultimate goal is to dig back in time — a sort of "space archeology" — to the very origins of the Solar System.

"Comets are not only fascinating objects ... when it's bright enough and you see the tail in the night sky, but comets for us are very, very important," Schwem said. "They can contain the material that has been preserved, like in a deep freeze, since the planets and sun formed 4.6 billion years ago."

With the probe now orbiting around 67P, Rosetta's scientists will begin mapping the comet's surface with a range of instruments. They'll also begin studying the composition of gas emitting from its surface as the comet draws closer to the sun. If Rosetta's small lander successfully touches down this fall, tools aboard the 220-pound landing unit will analyze material below the comet's surface along with its internal temperature fluctuations as it hurtles through space.

Although the Rosetta mission is officially expected to wrap up by the end of 2015, Schwem says the probe's 31-month hibernation, which ESA technicians concluded in January, conserved enough energy to allow the craft to produce new information and updates into 2016.

Rosetta has traveled over six billion kilometers since blasting off from earth in March 2004. It made a series of fly-bys of Mars and Earth so it could pick up speed and positioned itself into the same orbital path as Comet 67P.

The US National Aeronautics and Space Administration, or NASA, also contributed experts and instruments to Europe's Rosetta mission.

VOA correspondent Lisa Bryant contributed reporting from Paris.

You May Like

Turbulent Transition Imperils Tunisia’s Arab Spring Gains

Critics say new anti-terrorism laws worsen Tunisia's situation while others put faith in country’s vibrant civil organizations, women’s movement More

Burundi’s Political Crisis May Become Humanitarian One

United Nations aid agencies issue warning as deadly violence sends tens of thousands fleeing More

Yemenis Adjust to Life Under Houthi Rule

Locals want warring parties to strike deal to stop bloodletting before deciding how country is governed More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Cranksy from: USA
August 07, 2014 1:32 PM
Could the science and technology used to make the Rosetta project a success so far be used to prevent a collision between the Earth and a disastrously large extraterrestrial object?

by: Beallthere from: Hawaii
August 07, 2014 3:36 AM
Please capitalize Sun, please. And while you're at it, capitalize Earth, Moon, the days of the week and the months of the year also.
..Basically, if there's just 1 of something, it gets its own name. Is there just 1 Sun ?
..YES, SO CAPITALIZE IT !!!!!
..You would never think of writing Venus in all lowercase, Mars, Jupiter or even the no-longer-a-planet Pluto, so please, show some respect and capitalize these things. Thanks.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threati
X
Greg Flakus
May 29, 2015 11:24 PM
Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threat

Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video New York's One World Trade Center Observatory Opens to Public

From New Jersey to Long Island, from Northern suburbs to the Atlantic Ocean, with all of New York City in-between.  That view became available to the public Friday as the One World Trade Center Observatory opened in New York -- atop the replacement for the buildings destroyed in the September 11, 2001, attacks.  VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports.
Video

Video Seoul Sponsors Korean Unification Fair

With inter-Korean relations deteriorating over the North’s nuclear program, past military provocations and human rights abuses, many Koreans still hold out hope for eventual peaceful re-unification. VOA’s Brian Padden visited a “unification fair” held this week in Seoul, where border communities promoted the benefits of increased cooperation.
Video

Video Purple Door Coffeeshop: Changing Lives One Cup at a Time

For a quarter of his life, Kevin Persons lived on the street. Today, he is working behind the counter of an espresso bar, serving coffee and working to transition off the streets and into a home. Paul Vargas reports for VOA.
Video

Video Modular Robot Getting Closer to Reality

A robot being developed at Carnegie Mellon University has evolved into a multi-legged modular mechanical snake, able to move over rugged surfaces and explore the surroundings. Scientists say such machines could someday help in search and rescue operations. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Shanghai Hosts Big Consumer Electronics Show

Electronic gadgets are a huge success in China, judging by the first Asian Consumer Electronics Show, held this week in Shanghai. Over the course of two days, more than 20,000 visitors watched, tested and played with useful and some less-useful electronic devices exhibited by about 200 manufacturers. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Forced to Return Home, Afghan Refugees Face Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.

VOA Blogs