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.

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


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

Holey Space

Massive holes, deep holes, old holes – space holes. Holes in the vastness of space – vague, imperceptible apparitions free to behave anyway they please. Invisible cosmic riddles hidden from all but infrared light. Holes of unimaginable scope occupying the vast expanse  perceived as “empty”.  Holes without explanation or understanding – can they bend time, are they portals, do they obliterate everything foolish enough to wander up and say hello?

Images from the European Space Agency (ESA)  Herschel Space Observatory found a .2 light year wide hole in constellation Orion. Using infrared technology, Herschel verified a “blob” in nebula NGC 1999 (a star cluster within the confines of Orion) was indeed a hole in space as we know it. Science has a theory as to how the hole opened  (a void left when fledgling star cluster V380 Ori was born), beyond that – questions from depth to destiny are anyone’s guess.

A "hole in space" captured by Herschel.

A dark patch in a green blob of gas and dust (top) is a hole in the nebula NGC 1999.

Our Milky Way galaxy churns around a “super massive” black hole. Black holes are all about gravity – imagine our planet the size of a dime – small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, but weighing the same and packing the exact gravitational forces as its former self. Next multiply that by hundreds, thousands, perhaps millions, and you have a black hole. A region of space so densely packed with matter, gravitational pull won’t let light escape. By definition – an object in space so dense that its escape velocity exceeds the speed of light.

Watch this video – black holes are beyond cool.

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.


Rosetta Mission

In March 2004, the European Space Agency launched Rosetta – the mission, to reach Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko by August 2014, deploying a probe (dubbed Philae after an obelisk discovered on an island in the Nile leading to further unraveling of Egyptian writing and the Rosetta Stone) , one destined as the first to  land on a comet surface.

Comet 67P/ Churyumov-Gerasimenko travels around the Sun at approximately 800 million kilometers, on an orbit between Earth and Jupiter. For Rosetta to make the journey, “gravity assists” (momentum from flybys of Mars in 2007, and Earth in 2005, 2007 and 2009) explain the 10 years and over 6 billion kilometers Rosetta travels before reaching her destination.

Recently woken from a 31 month slumber, Rosetta sent extraordinary pictures on July 14 indicating the comet might be a binary system (one with two nucleus orbiting each other). On July 24, more pictures will be released following a “FAT burn” (far approach trajectory) adjustment to slow Rosetta down. “CAT burns” (close approach trajectory) on August 3 and 6 will place Rosetta 100 kilometers from the comet surface, traveling in polite unison. Months of August and September bring another “burn” taking Rosetta within 70 kilometers of the surface. October will find Rosetta within 5 kilometers of the surface, looking for a place to land Philae.

Possibly a few days one way or the other, November 11, 2014 Philae will separate from Rosetta, land on the comet surface, deploying anchors to keep it in place. For the next 7 days, a few more if we’re lucky, Philae will sample gases, water, ice, mineral composition – all while taking close up and panoramic pictures of the surface.

Ponder a unmanned space probe using gravitational support and a whole lot of ingenuity to journey 6 billion kilometers in 10 years – all for the prize of a week or so on the surface of a distant comet. If that doesn’t blow your mind, or at very least pass a “holy crap” through your head – I give up.