After a decade traveling through the solar system, Rosetta is preparing to write history
The image above shows the primary landing site of Philae, Rosetta’s lander, which is expected to make a soft landing on comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko at Site J, or backup Site C, on Nov. 12, 2014. Image credit: ESA/Rosetta
Between Mars and Jupiter (Oct. 11, 2014) –
After two weeks of analysis of possible trajectories the flight dynamics and operations teams of the European Space Agency (ESA) is preparing to make the first soft landing of a robot on a comet on Nov. 12, 2014. Expectations are for Rosetta to release Philae at around 08:35 UTC (12:35 a.m PST; 9:35 a.m. Central European Time), if Site J is the target, at a height of 14 miles (22.5 kilometers) above the center of the comet.
If all goes as expected, Philae should make a soft landing about seven hours later, around 7:35 a.m. PST. Here on Earth, mission specialists will get the confirmation of a successful landing 28 minutes and 20 seconds later, due to the time it takes the signal to travel between Rosetta and the Earth. This means we should get word on whether Philae made a successful landing around 16:00 UTC (8 a.m PST; 5 p.m CET).
Should the decision be made to try for backup Site C, instead of Site J, the lander will be released at 13:04 UTC (5:04 a.m. PST; 2:04 p.m. CET) at a distance of about 7.8 miles (12.5 kilometers) from the center of the comet?
In the backup scenario, Philae should land about four hours after release, which means the confirmation signal should arrive at Earth somewhere around 17:30 UTC (9:30 a.m. PST; 6:30 p.m CET). All times are estimates subject to uncertainties of minutes.
The Rosetta team will make a final decision on the landing site on October 14, 2014, after they review the lander to see if it’s ready for launch, and take a look at the high-resolution images of the landing sites they’ll take between now and Nov. 12.
During the week including Oct. 14, the ESA is planning on having a contest to determine the best name for the landing site selected. This is your chance to stamp your name on Rosetta and its mission. Check the Rosetta mission website to sign up for the competition and check out the rules.
A joint space mission spearheaded by the European Space Agency, but with help from NASA and friends, the Rosetta Space Mission is expected to enlighten us about the origins of comets and possibly life on Earth. Comets are time capsules containing material left over from the time when the solar system and Earth were being formed. Scientists will study the gas, dust, and structure of the interior of the comet to unlock secrets about the past, evolution and possible future of Earth and the solar system. They also hope to shine a light on the origins of Earth’s water and how life came to exist on one out of the way little planet in the middle of nowhere.
After Philae has landed, it will begin to study the comet up close using 10 scientific instruments. Rosetta will continue to study the comet and its composition and structure over the next year and a bit as they travel together around the sun and then back to the outer solar system.
Hundreds of year from now, when future archaeoastronomers discover Philae sitting on the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, will it create the energy and wonder created by its namesake – the Rosetta Stone – discovered in 1799 by French soldier Pierre-Francois Bouchard near the town of Rosetta in Egypt.
Philae will be sitting
Will scientists hundreds of years in the future argue over the true origin and meaning of the device they discover on a lonely comet circling the sun? Will it create widespread public interest in determining how, why and when it came to rest on a piece of the original building blocks of the solar system? Time will tell the story sometime in the future. A story that could inspire others to delve deeper into the mystery of the solar system and life on Earth.
You can find additional information on the current status of the Rosetta mission here.
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