Aurora Cometalis

Beaming with pride, cosmic wonder is pleased to introduce Aurora Cometalis. According to Marina Galand of Imperial College London, lead author of research published this week in Nature Astronomy., Comet 67P has auroras. Galand’s paper explaining how 67P turns jets of water into Aurora Cometalis is nothing short of remarkable. Seems Aurora Borealis has European Space Agency Rosetta Mission to thank posthumously for expanding the Borealis family tree.

While orbiting Comet 67P between 2014-2016, Rosetta captured images of odd light emissions. Astronomers scratched heads over peculiar ultraviolet light glow invisible to the human eye. 67P doesn’t have a magnetic field, glaring absence of observable green, red, purple or pinkish undulating waves never screamed “wake up people, these invisible ultraviolet bursts are auroras!”.

Galand’s team persevered. Years of combining data from Rosetta’s sensors coupled with computer models plotting interactions between solar wind and comet atmosphere concluded – auroras are real even when invisible to the human eye.

In a nutshell, naturally occurring electric fields in a comet’s atmosphere can grab electrons tossing them inward to collide with spewing water molecules. Exuberant atoms empowered by sudden molecular disruption dance with wild abandon to the tune of ultraviolet auroras.

If you could stand on Comet 67P and see UV light, Aurora Cometalis would appear as bands of diffused, uneven light punctuated by brighter bands when jets of water march across the field of view. Best of all, you’d be surrounded by light – Aurora Cometalis descend all the way down to the surface. So cool! There’s no reason why other comets can’t have auroras. Galand’s research is based on Comet 67P because Rosetta just happened to be in the neighborhood. Welcome to the cosmos Aurora Cometalis.

Rosetta’s Death Dive Into the Pits Of Deir El-Medina

European Space Agency’s plucky little probe Rosetta has a date with destiny. On September 30, 2016 ESA mission control will intentionally crash land Rosetta on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko’s in the pits of Deir El-Medina.

Located in the Ma’at region on 67P’s smaller lobe, the pits of Deir El-Medina haven’t an inkling of Rosetta’s upcoming assisted suicide. Measuring 100 meters wide and 50 meters deep, the pit was chosen as Rosetta’s resting place based on “active” eruptions of gaseous space dust. Rosetta’s forced death spiral will unfold with instruments blazing, her suicidal descent calculated to gather data elusive to orbital diligence alone.

Launched in 2004 with a singular objective – catch comet 67P by August 2014, deploy a probe to the comet’s surface, then settle into observational orbit for two years. Since August 9, 2016 Rosetta has tightened her orbit around 67P, on September 24 her final fly-by could be within a kilometer of the surface. Over the following few days intricate maneuvers will facilitate elliptical orbit becoming a free fall trajectory.

“It’s hard to believe that Rosetta’s incredible 12.5 year odyssey is almost over, and we’re planning the final set of science operations, but we are certainly looking forward to focusing on analysing the reams of data for many decades to come.”

“This pioneering mission may be coming to an end, but it has certainly left its mark in the technical, scientific and public spheres as being one of outstanding success, with incredible achievements contributing to the current and future understanding of our Solar System,” adds Patrick Martin, ESA’s Rosetta mission manager.

Linked below, the Rosetta blog – a collection of Rosetta’s legacy from the European Space Agency. Well worth a ponder.

RIP Philae

Star of the European Space Agency’s Rosetta Mission, lander Philae faced Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko with stoic determination. November 12, 2014 dawned with realization of Rosetta’s 10 year, 6 billion kilometer journey to travel in unison with 67P. A day defined by Rosetta’s singular purpose – deploy lander Philae to the surface of comet 67P. Oh Philae, how could you anticipate a faulty thruster, or fathom a legacy defined by malfunctioning harpoons?

Undaunted by cataclysmic failure of comet securing tethers, Philae capped seven hold your breath hours of descent with a kilometer high bounce. Stay the course determination erupted from the tenacious little lander. Rosetta Mission ordered a landing, Philae gave them one.

A kilometer off course, hopelessly sheltered from energizing solar panel sunlight, Philae faced mortality with honor and purpose. Born 510 million kilometers from Earth, Philae lived 64 hours. From deployment to failure of primary batteries, Philae managed to complete 80% of mission objectives. Detailed surface images, samples of organic compounds, environment and surface properties of Comet 67P.

The evening of November 14-15, 2014 Philae drifted into deep sleep. Not ready to forsake the feisty lander, optimism waited for perihelion (closest orbit of 67P to the Sun ) on August 13, 2015. Approaching perihelion, between June 13-July 9, 2015 Philae made 7 valiant attempts to transmit data.

Silent since July 2015, coupled with uncertainty of Philae’s location in light of dynamic changes in 67P’s surface, and consensus solar panels are likely covered in space dust – led to signing Philae death certificate on February 12, 2016, announcing no further attempts to contact Philae.

Rosetta’s little lander that could is gone, but not forgotten. RIP Philae, you served humanity beyond wildest expectation.

This series of images of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko was captured by Rosetta's OSIRIS narrow-angle camera on 12 August 2015, just a few hours before the comet reached the closest point to the Sun along its 6.5-year orbit, or perihelion. The images were taken from a distance of about 330 km from the comet. The comet's activity, at its peak intensity around perihelion and in the weeks that follow, is clearly visible in these spectacular images. Image credit: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

Philae's bounce across the surface of its comet, as captured by the Rosetta mothership. Image via ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

Philae’s bounce across the surface of its comet, as captured by the Rosetta mothership. Image via ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

Ridiculously Difficult

Difficult tasks are daunting – ridiculously difficult is a proposition best left to imagination. Ridiculous is defined as unreasonably absurd or silly notions deserving ridicule – a preposterous suggestion easily dismissed as ludicrous. Fortunately mankind came with an infinite capacity to imagine ridiculously difficult possibilities.

On November 12, the European Space Agency Rosetta Mission will attempt “ridiculously difficult”- how hard could it be to land a probe on the surface of a miniscule chunk of cosmic debris traveling 40 times faster than speeding bullets?

Difficult was born 10 years ago when the ESA imagined ridiculous and launched Rosetta. A robotic probe with ridiculously difficult expectations – meander through the cosmos for 10 years, alternately slingshotting of planetary gravitational pulls, “sleeping”, waking up to take pictures, and finally slowing itself down to mirror the orbit and speed of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. – a infinitesimally minute cosmic speck only a few miles wide.  That in itself was difficult – ridiculous is the morning of Nov. 12 when Rosetta will deploy Philae, a probe expected to land on the surface of  67P at a spot dubbed Agilkia.

Ridiculously difficult might well define humanity. Where or what would we be without the tenacity and vision of absurdly silly dreamers. On November 12, link to the live feed below – witness the possibilities of pursuing ridiculously difficult.

Pictured below – Philae’s primary landing site, mosaic – courtesy ESA

Philae’s primary landing site – mosaic. Image credit: ESA