By in Science

Rosetta has reached the Stone!

Rosetta has arrived! After a ten-year journey from Earth that involved whizzing round a few planets, not to mention five orbits of the Sun, to get up sufficient speed, the space probe launched in 2004 by the European Space Agency has finally caught up with Comet 67P Churyumov-Gerasimenko – which is admittedly not as memorable a name as Halley, or even Swift-Tuttle!

The comet, which was originally discovered in 1969 by the two Ukrainian astronomers after whom it is named, was identified some years ago as a suitable candidate for close inspection as it headed towards the Sun from the furthest reaches of the Solar System.

Comets are pieces of rock that have been unchanged since before the planets were created some 4.6 billion years ago. They are therefore of considerable interest to astronomers who want to know how the Solar System evolved and what its fundamental building blocks look like. Some scientists believe that the water on Earth came from comets, as did the building blocks for life. The Rosetta mission might just be able to answer that question.

Rosetta and Comet 67P are now hurtling along together, 500 million miles away. The plan is for Rosetta to orbit the comet, making many scientific measurements and analyses as it does so, while also looking for a suitable landing site for a small probe.

The comet is only 2.5 miles across at its widest point and therefore has extremely low gravity. The danger is that a probe might simply bounce off once it tries to land, so it will send ‘anchors’ into the surface to keep it in place while samples are taken and analysed.

Pictures that have already been transmitted reveal Comet 67P to have an unusual shape. It looks like two lumps of rock that have been fused together and it has been likened to a ‘rubber duck’ in its overall appearance.

Comets have been described in the past as ‘dirty snowballs’ in the belief they contain a considerable amount of ice. However, an initial inspection of 67P, made during Rosetta’s approach, shows that its temperature of minus 70 degrees C is much warmer than expected. This would indicate that the surface is more dusty than icy.

The astronomers and scientists who are managing the mission are getting understandably excited about what the future holds in terms of what they might learn about 67P. This is a highly complex and ambitious mission (not to say expensive!) so good results are being looked for that will, with any luck, answer some very old and pertinent questions.

( For the attention of LoudMan )

Image Credit » DLR. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported licence.

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Fractal wrote on August 7, 2014, 11:19 AM

I think it is all rather astonishing. Being able to 'control' a tiny little probe onto a comet the other side of the solar system.
My dear old Gran would have a hard time believing it.. She took a lot of convincing that Russia sent a dog up into space.

Scorpie wrote on August 7, 2014, 12:47 PM

They will certainly discover what it is like to spend a trainload of taxpayers money.

LoudMan wrote on August 7, 2014, 5:56 PM

Too bad we can't get samples. Thanks for this submission into the contest.

bridgetidelaney wrote on August 8, 2014, 5:43 PM

That's cool that it is now there! Space exploration is a neat thing. While the space exploration for science is cool, I think it is even cooler when it confirms things in the Bible.

LeslieAdrienne wrote on August 8, 2014, 8:56 PM

LOL... Your comment would be even funnier if it weren't so absolutely true [imagine an appropriate emoticon right here]

LeslieAdrienne wrote on August 8, 2014, 8:57 PM

Me too... which by the way is really a good investment if you are looking into learning a new language.

Scorpie wrote on August 8, 2014, 8:58 PM

try colon lower case p

LeslieAdrienne wrote on August 8, 2014, 9:01 PM

You got that right Bridgetidelaney If we look closely at scientific discoveries, they always confirm events, prophecies and occurrences in the Bible. A good movie to look at, if you haven't seen it already, is the movie, "God is Not Dead!" It does have a great scientific explanation which defends the existence of God... it is great!

bridgetidelaney wrote on August 9, 2014, 11:55 AM

I've heard of the movie, but I've not seen it. I'll have to make sure to watch it!

Kylyssa wrote on August 12, 2014, 1:26 PM

This is wonderful! I'm delighted to see all the recent progress made in space exploration.

I couldn't reply to comments below so I'll leave my opinion in this one.

I'd rather see money put into the economy through scientists in space programs than through the international industrial war complexes. One of those groups has no vested interest in starting wars.

It astonishes me that so many people don't understand that the money stays on earth and that the computer and cell-phone technologies they enjoy so much spun off from space research and the space race. Then again, maybe they don't believe that objects from space smashed into the earth and caused the death of the dinosaurs, either. If we can spend a microscopic portion of money (a social construct, anyway) compared to what the US alone spends on "defense" and improve quality of life on earth and perhaps figure out how to avoid a mass extinction in the future, it seems pretty worthwhile to me.

Now the descendants of those space-born technologies are rendering astounding medical technologies and all sorts of wonderful gadgets. A medic can now carry an advanced diagnostic kit including a wide assortment of testing equipment in a backpack and provide cutting edge medical care anywhere on the planet. Now a woman with no legs can be a dancer or a runner with space-age prosthetics designed in modern computers. Some deaf people can get implants and hear and the technologies for the blind to see with are improving every day. I love my modern world of technology and effective medical care and we wouldn't have it without reaching into the unknown!