Tuesday, December 2, 2014

First Spacecraft Touches Down on Comet

Mitch Lewis
Staff Writer

 On November 12, at about 11 am Eastern Standard Time, the spacecraft Philae, touched down on the surface of 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, a comet 317 million miles away. This marked the first time in human history that a man made object touched down and landed on a comet. The mission chased the comet for over 4 billion miles and finally touched down on the comet after a decade long journey through space.  
 The 1 Billion Euro mission was named the Rosetta mission and was launched on March 2, 2004. The mission utilized many gravity assists to propel itself at a high speed through space. Its first flyby of Earth occurred on March 4, 2004. It then made a close flyby of Mars, getting as low and 250 Km (160 mi) above Mars’ surface documenting its surface and analyzing the atmosphere. The mission then returned to Earth for its second flyby on Nov. 13, 2007. With the gravity assist from the Earth, Rosetta flung itself towards Asteroid 2867 Steins. On Sept. 5, 2008 Rosetta reached the Asteroid and its instruments took pictures to analyze the Asteroid. Rosetta returned to Earth for its third and final flyby on Nov. 12, 2009. Rosetta then on July 10, 2010, made a close flyby of Lutetia 21, a large main belt asteroid, and recorded images of about 50% of its surface.
 Once these missions were completed, the Rosetta engineers set another astronomical body in their sights. This time a comet. In May 2014, Rosetta began a series of burns that decreased the relative velocity of Rosetta and its target. Rosetta’s target was 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, a comet that was at a distance more than twice that of Mars’ orbit. The comet orbits the sun every 6.5 years and it roughly 2.5 miles long at its widest and largest points. The comet is travelling over 80,000 mph through space and is also rotating. The surface of  67P was unmapped prior to Rosetta’s arrival. Upon arrival, the spacecraft documented the surface of the comet and by August 25, five landing sites had been found and proposed.

 On Nov. 12, 2014, Rosetta lander, Philae, touched down on the surface of the comet and was stable on the surface after two bounces due to a technical failure of the landers’ landing harpoons. The lander will search through the comet looking for organic compounds that could be evidence of how life came to Earth. Comets are some of the oldest objects in the observable universe and are usually compiled of ice shards and dust. This instance was the first time in human history that a man made object has landed on the nucleus of a comet.

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