The European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft has finally reached its destination on Wednesday. About 7:00 pm. local time on Wednesday, the ESA’s comet chaser came within just 60 miles of the surface of Comet 67-P/Churyumov-Gerasimenk. The comet is traveling at about 35,000 miles per hour around the sun.
Rosetta mapping the surface of Comet 67-P
Matching the speed of Rosetta with that of the comet was challenging. But researchers did it successfully. It’s the first time in history that a spacecraft was maneuvered alongside a comet to map its surface in detail. The space agency has adjusted Rosetta’s speed such that, in relative terms, it will be walking beside the comet at 2.2 miles per hour. The probe will conduct a close examination of the comet and look for a suitable touchdown zone where Philae can land.
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Philae is a 220-pound robot sent with the probe to study the comet’s surface. It is expected to land on the Comet 67-P on November 11. At this point, the comet and the probe are about 330 million miles away from the sun. Comets usually consist of dust, rock and ice. They are frozen leftovers in the formation of a solar system. Scientists hope Rosetta’s observations will offer clues about the formation of our solar system about 4.5 billion years ago.
Rosetta and Philae to closely study the comet
Recent photographs of Comet 67-P taken by Rosetta revealed its unusual shape. The 2.5-mile wide comet looks like an amalgamation of two icy bodies. In June, the probe measured that about two cups of water vapor was streaming off the comet per second. As it moves further toward the sun, its icy body will warm, and the flow of water vapor will grow to hundreds of pounds per second. It will form a long tail of water vapor, dust particles and gas.
Last month, Rosetta found that the surface temperature of the comet was minus 70 degrees Celsius. That’s relatively warmer compared to other comets. It indicates that the Comet 67-P surface was not entirely ice. It also consisted of dust particles that absorb more heat from the sun.