Rosetta – A mission to catch a comet !
Comets are believed to be even more primitive than our Solar System itself. They are believed to be keeping records of the physical and chemical processes that led to the formation and evolution of our galaxy as we see it today and ever evolving.
Since comets exist at large distances from the sun, they are cooler and thus depict perfectly the conditions that would have existed when the sun and the solar system were first born.
Also, comets are made up of ‘organic molecules’ that could well be the chemical building blocks of life. Thus, investigating the composition of comets is increasingly becoming an integral part of unlocking the mysteries of the beginning of all life.
Rosetta, ESA’s Comet Chaser is a means to one such quest. Our earlier stints with Comets have been ESA’s Giotto & Russian Vega probes in 1986 which were the first fly-bys of Comet Halley; and another near encounter with Gaspra, a main-belt asteroid in 1991, by NASA’s Galileo spacecraft. Rosetta is the first time that a spacecraft has ever landed on a comet.
Rosetta was launched in March 2004, It has travelled a total distance of 7 billion kms. It has flown past earth three times (2005, 2007 and 2009), and once past Mars (2007).
On 12th November, 2014, Rosetta’s Lander Philae successfully lands on the surface of the comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko after trying three touchdowns, a feat never before achieved in the history of modern science.
The lander is delivering images and data which reveal dust and debris on the surface of the comet with sizes varying from a few mm to a few metre. The mission is expected to end on 31st December, 2015.
References & image credits: ESA, rosetta, sci.esa , ESA/Rosetta/Philae/ROLIS/DLR