From: Roger Greenway, ENN
Published November 7, 2014 04:44 AM

The mysteries of what Comets actually are is getting closer to being solved

Man has been amazed by comets for millenia. What are they, these beautiful wanderers?  There have been many theories, the most popular being that they are balls of ice.  Now we are actually getting data.  The photographs taken by the European Space Agency's Rosetta spacecraft show comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko to be more rocklike than a ball of ice.

After sailing through space for more than 10 years, the European Space Agency's Rosetta spacecraft is now less than a week shy of landing a robotic probe on a comet. 

The mission's Philae (fee-LAY) lander is scheduled to touch down on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on Wednesday, Nov. 12 at 7:35 a.m PST/10:35 a.m. EST. A signal confirming the landing is expected about 8:02 a.m. PST/11:02 a.m. EST. If all goes as planned with this complex engineering feat, it will be the first-ever soft landing of a spacecraft on a comet. 

The landing site, formerly known simply as Site J, now has an official name: Agilkia. The name, chosen after an ESA public essay competition, is in keeping with the mission's Egyptian theme. It refers to an island on the Nile where ancient buildings were relocated after the island Philae flooded. One hundred fifty people nominated Agilkia, including the overall winner, Alexandre Brouste from France. He has been invited to watch the landing activities at Rosetta's mission control in Darmstadt, Germany.

After touchdown on Nov. 12, the Philae lander will obtain the first images ever taken from a comet's surface. It will also drill into the surface to study the composition, and witness close up how a comet changes as its exposure to the sun varies. Philae can remain active on the surface for about two-and-a-half days. Its mothership, the Rosetta spacecraft, will remain in orbit around the comet through 2015. The orbiter will continue detailed studies of the comet as it approaches the sun and then moves away.

In addition to their well-deserved reputation as beautiful cosmic objects, comets hold vital clues about our solar system's history. They are considered primitive building blocks of the solar system that are literally frozen in time, and they may have played a part in "seeding" Earth with water and, possibly, the basic ingredients for life.

Photo of comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko credit ESA.

Read more at JPL NASA.

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