Rosetta arrives at comet

ESA’s comet chaser finally meets its target


Images taken by the OSIRIS camera onboard Rosetta have revealed the comet's strange shape.

Today, 6 August, ESA’s Rosetta began its manoeuvres to go into orbit around comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The probe has been chasing its target for over 6 billion km across the Solar System and now it is only 100km away from its target.

“We’ve arrived at the comet,” said planetary scientist Dr Dan Andrews, speaking at the BIS Space History conference. “Now we start the mapping phase, preparing to map the surface to decide where to land the lander, Philae.”

The landing, currently scheduled for 11 November, will be the first soft landing on the surface of a comet ever attempted. The comet’s nucleus is a ‘dirty snowball’, made up of the material left over after the planets first formed, making it one of the most pristine environments in the Solar System. Together with Rosetta, Philae will examine the composition of the comet, helping scientists to understand how our local planetary neighbourhood was created and find out if these objects delivered the building blocks of life to Earth.

The rendezvous procedure will begin with a thruster burn that will tip Rosetta towards the comet, setting it on a triangular path around its target. Each leg of the triangle will be around 100km long and take Rosetta three to four days to complete, bringing Rosetta closer to the surface each time.

When the craft is 10 to 20km away it will be gravitationally bound into orbit, and then the team can decide on a location to land Philae. This could still prove tricky though as images taken by Rosetta a few weeks ago revealed that the comet had an unusual form. Its ‘rubber duck’ shape is due to the fact that the comet is a contact binary, where two separate objects have fused together.

“The contact binary shape will make modelling the landing more tricky,” says Andrews, “and it may mean greater regions of the surface we can’t reach, but we’ll be able to land somewhere. It’s all gone very well so far, so we’re actually quietly confident.”

You can follow all the action live here from 9am BST.


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