Posted by: Bonnie Phelps | November 10, 2014

Rosetta and the Comet – Coming Soon!


So often I’ve heard folks in awe of our night sky we enjoy on Palomar Mountain.  It is so much brighter up here “a mile nearer heaven”.  I also think many of us are intrigued with exploration of outer space.  Robert Gonsett is one of the subscribers to the Mountain News, and I thought many of you would be interested in a message he just sent my way:

From: Robert Gonsett

For those of you interested in outer space and exploration into the unknown, this may be a banner week.

Background: The Rosetta spacecraft has traveled for 10 years to reach a certain comet in our solar system.  Rosetta successfully went into orbit around that comet last August.  That was the first time a spacecraft has ever orbited a comet.  The comet is officially known as 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko or “67P” for short.  It’s about three miles long.

This Wednesday: If all goes as planned, a space-probe the size of a washing machine will be released from Rosetta and will land on the comet’s surface Wednesday morning at 7:35 AM PST.  This will be the first time a spacecraft has ever soft-landed on a comet!  A host of scientific tests are planned for the comet’s surface.

The Rosetta mission is perhaps more exciting than the first moon landing because the technical challenges are greater. This comet turns out to have very rough terrain with housed-sized boulders, craggy craters and 500-foot-high cliffs.  Add to that the complicating factor that the comet is outgassing and those gasses alone could topple the lander.

I can’t wait to see what will happen. For more information, Google “Rosetta spacecraft” and you’ll find a number of interesting articles.  Hopefully the mainstream media will take notice.  (Even if the lander fails, the Rosetta orbiter will continue to circle the comet and give us a ringside view as 67P approaches the sun and massive outgassing occurs.)

The photo attached was taken about a month ago from the Rosetta orbiter. The big flat objects in the center of the photo are a bank of solar panels to power the spacecraft.  Above the panels are two spheres.  Those spheres are connected to each other and you are in fact looking at Comet 67P.

While the news media is obsessed with ebola, ISIS, politics and similar earth-bound matters, don’t forget to think about the heavens above. Let’s hope for a successful landing and fasten your seat belts for Wednesday morning.  A great exploratory attempt is about to get underway.

Have a good week, Bob

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