Rosetta’s Life Ends September 30, 2016

As I write, mission control at ESA (European Space Agency) dutifully prepare Rosetta for her assisted suicide. In less than 6 hours (twenty minutes either side of 7:20 am ET to be precise), Rosetta enters controlled descent into the pits of Deir el-Medina on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

“The target area is home to several active pits measuring over 100 meters across and 60 meters deep [about 100 yards wide and 60 yards deep], from which a number of the comet’s dust jets originate. Some of the pit walls also exhibit intriguing meter-sized lumpy structures called ‘goosebumps’, which could be the signatures of early cometesimals [i.e, the building blocks of comets] that agglomerated to create the comet in the early phases of solar system formation. Rosetta’s final descent may afford detailed close-up views of these features.” – ESA

NASA television (first link below) is airing Rosetta’s descent live.

Another NASA link below, offers additional live viewing options and links to dedicated mission details –

Rosetta will crash into the Ma’at region of Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. The yellow ellipse marks an approximate outline of the 700- × 500-meter (700- x 500-yard) target area. Image via ESA.

Artist's concept of Rosetta

Artist’s concept of Rosetta shortly before hitting Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on Sept. 30, 2016. Image credit: ESA/ATG medialab
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Philae Silent

The European Space Agency Rosetta mission will continue until December 2015 – as of now, the point at which project funds run dry. Rosetta became the darling of space endeavors with the “sort of” successful landing of Rosetta’s probe Philae on the surface of comet 67P. “Sort of” because yes, Philae found a historic resting place on 67P – unfortunately not without a few hiccups.

It was easy and understandable to overlook those hiccups in the heat of the moment.  Philae “bounced” on the first attempt (almost a kilometer off the surface), before falling and bouncing again. The landing was successful, if all that mattered was a landing. I walked around with a goofy grin, oblivious to the unfortunate location Philae came to rest. It reminded me of early Apollo missions – headline news, something everyone talked about.

If all had gone according to plan, Philae would have deployed anchors on that first “touchdown”, consequently transmitting data until March 2015. Sobering reality had a different plan – Philae came to rest in a “shadow”, a place with little concern for solar panels.

Philae’s unfortunate bounce meant a meager 57 hours of usefulness before falling completely and utterly silent. Damn batteries.

Philae may be down, but Rosetta isn’t out – Rosetta will travel in tandem with the orbit of 67P, observing what happens as it reaches perihelion (closest orbit to the sun) in August 2015. Important observations will detail the effect of heating the nucleus, followed by cooling as it travels away from the sun until the end of 2015.

A 10 year mission for 57 hours of data might seem like a bust – not even close! The Rosetta mission is testament to everything that defines mankind. The ability to dream, question, and follow through with voyages of discovery no matter how fantastic or unpredictable the outcome might be.

“From now on, no contact would be possible unless sufficient sunlight falls on the solar panels to generate enough power to wake it up …

However, given the low recharge current available from the solar cells, it is considered unlikely that contact with Philae will be established in the coming days.”This animated GIF shows the Philae comet lander's first touchdown point, as seen by the Rosetta mothership's NavCam.  After touching down the first time, the lander bounced nearly a kilometer back to space, before touching down again two more times on its comet.  Image via ESA

This animated GIF shows the Philae comet lander’s first touchdown point, as seen by the Rosetta mothership’s NavCam. After touching down the first time, the lander bounced nearly a kilometer back to space, before touching down again two more times on its comet. Image via ESA


What’s New Rosetta?

Image from Rosetta spacecraft July 29, 2014.  Credits: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA.

ESA (European Space Agency) probe Rosetta released this image of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko of July 29. (Link below if you have no idea what I’m talking about)

Taken from a distance less than 2000 kilometers, this tiny (3.5 x 4 Km.) space object is about to make history. In less than a week, following Close Approach Trajectory burns on August 3 and 6 – Rosetta will be traveling tandem at a distance of 100 Km. All leading up to November 11 when Rosetta deploys the Philae probe – a carefully planned landing of scientific instruments on a miniscule chunk of gas, dust and ice orbiting our Sun between Mars and Jupiter, at a distance of 544 million kilometers.

A year from now, 67P’s orbit will take it within 185 million kilometers of the sun. Science understood timing is everything – Rosetta had to encounter 67P at exactly the right moment.  Rosetta’s destiny set in stone long before the moment of countdown.  A year from now and millions of kilometers closer to the sun –  solar energy heated gases and melting ice will turn this polite little comet into an unpredictable, swollen renegade – science had an idea, made a plan, and knew the precise moment landing a probe on this distant Comet was possible.

Ponder what it took to launch a satellite 10 years ago, calculate precise orbits of our planet and Mars using gravitational pull as a means of propulsion, toss in a 31 month “sleep”, wake Rosetta at precisely the right moment, initiate a series of controlled “burns” to slow and edge it closer to the surface, maneuver it until traveling in tandem – all geared towards 7 – 10 glorious days of data collected by landing a probe on the surface in November.

Remarkable as Rosetta’s anticipated comet landing may be, well over 6000 active probes and satellites currently expand our understanding of the universe. Click this link for an eye opening lesson….

This link for Rosetta news….

My only wish is that I could be alive 50 years from now to witness our understanding of the cosmos. There’s no doubt in my mind it will turn conventional thinking on its head – who knows, it might just be Rosetta who unlocks the door.