Gotcha! Rosetta catches up with the comet

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  • Published: Aug 7, 2014
  • Author: Steve Down
  • Channels: UV/Vis Spectroscopy / Base Peak / Infrared Spectroscopy / X-ray Spectrometry
thumbnail image: Gotcha! Rosetta catches up with the comet

The Rosetta spacecraft has finally caught up with its target, comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, after a journey taking more than ten years. The ESA mission is designed to study the make up of the comet, which orbits the Sun every 6.5 years, passing between the orbits of Earth and Jupiter and is about 6.5 km long. Rosetta will fly alongside the comet as it approaches the Sun, analysing the material that it gives off while it warms up, as well as setting a lander on the surface for further experiments.

The mission hopes to achieve many firsts:

  • the first spacecraft to orbit a comet’s nucleus
  • the first to fly alongside a comet as it heads towards the inner Solar System
  • the first spacecraft to examine from close proximity how a frozen comet is transformed by the warmth of the Sun
  • the first controlled touchdown on a comet nucleus for in situ analysis

To achieve its analytical goals, the spacecraft and the lander are fitted with a suite of instruments. Among the 11 instruments on the spacecraft are:

  • a UV imaging spectrometer to analyse the gases in the tail and the composition of the comet surface
  • a secondary ion mass spectrometry to study the dust grains thrown off the comet
  • a spectrometer for ion and neutral analysis to measure the composition of the comet's atmosphere and ionosphere and the reactions taking place there

The 10 instruments on the lander include:

  • an alpha X-ray spectrometer to study the elemental composition of the surface
  • evolved gas analysers for complex organic compounds

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