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

Video Westgate Mall Attack Survivors Confront Painful Memories

On anniversary of terror attack, survivors discuss how they have coped with trauma they experienced that day More

Iraqi Kurdish Leader: Protect Syrian City

Islamic State fighters are besieging Kobani, also known as Ayn al-Arab, after seizing at least 21 surrounding villages in a major assault against city on Syria's northern border with Turkey More

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

Conservationists hail ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015 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.
Russian Economy Reeling After New Western Sanctionsi
X
September 18, 2014 2:28 AM
A new wave of Western sanctions is hitting Russia’s economy hard. State-owned energy firms continue to bleed profits and Russia’s national currency plunged to a new low this week after the U.S. and the European Union announced new sanctions to punish Russia's aggressive stance in eastern Ukraine. But as Mil Arcega reports, the sanctions could also prove costly for European and American companies.
Video

Video Russian Economy Reeling After New Western Sanctions

A new wave of Western sanctions is hitting Russia’s economy hard. State-owned energy firms continue to bleed profits and Russia’s national currency plunged to a new low this week after the U.S. and the European Union announced new sanctions to punish Russia's aggressive stance in eastern Ukraine. But as Mil Arcega reports, the sanctions could also prove costly for European and American companies.
Video

Video Belgian Researchers Discover Way to Block Cancer Metastasis

Cancer remains one of the deadliest diseases, despite many new methods to combat it. Modern medicine has treatments to prevent the growth of primary tumor cells. But most cancer deaths are caused by metastasis, the stage when primary tumor cells change and move to other parts of the body. A team of Belgian scientists says it has found a way to prevent that process. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Mogadishu's Flood of Foreign Workers Leaves Somalis Out of Work

Unemployment and conflict has forced many young Somalians out of the country in search of a better life. But a newfound stability in the once-lawless nation has created hope — and jobs — which, some say, are too often being filled by foreigners. Abdulaziz Billow reports from Mogadishu.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.
Video

Video NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Future of Ukrainian Former President's Estate Uncertain

More than six months after Ukraine's former President Viktor Yanukovych fled revolution to Russia, authorities have yet to gain control of his palatial estate. Protesters occupy the grounds and opened it to tourists but they are also refusing to turn it over to the state. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Mezhigirya, just north of Kyiv.
Video

Video China Muslims Work to Change Perceptions After Knife Attacks

China says its has sentenced three men to death and one woman to life in prison for a deadly knife attack in March that left more than 30 dead and 140 injured. Beijing says Muslim militants from China's restive western region of Xinjiang carried out the attacks. Now, more than six months after the incident, residents in the city are still coping with the aftermath. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Kunming.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid