Across the Universe: Ice dreams
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This is a slightly edited version of a column that first ran in The Tablet in August 2014 ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft arrived at comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko on August 6, 2014. Launched more than ten years earlier, upon arrival it took up an orbit around the sun that parallels the comet’s path, to keep the comet in its cameras from a distance of only a few tens of kilometers. The next two months saw intense preparation for the final stage of the mission: in mid November, 2014, a lander was sent to the comet’s dark surface with instruments to measure its composition in close up detail. (The original plan was for it to drill about 20 cm into the comet itself, to pierce the dusty crust and reach the icy material beneath. Alas, it landed into a shadowed region and was not able to get enough power to do its job or communicate with the orbiter… its fate is described here, on … Continue reading

Rosetta’s Philae Lander Found!
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The Philae lander, lost among the crags, clefts, and shadows on the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko has been found! The Rosetta spacecraft, flying a mere 2.7 km above the comet on September 2nd, located the lander with its OSIRIS narrow-angle camera as it imaged the comet’s surface at a resolution of 5 cm/pixel. The Rosetta Twitter feed was abuzz with the news: THE SEARCH IS OVER! I’ve found @Philae2014!! https://t.co/a39zKc4Tz3 #CometLanding #PhilaeFound pic.twitter.com/Dubx5MpGSZ — ESA Rosetta Mission (@ESA_Rosetta) September 5, 2016 I was so close to #67P, I could even make out @Philae2014’s legs and instruments! https://t.co/xBcHlOuE5b pic.twitter.com/valSCdwtZ9 — ESA Rosetta Mission (@ESA_Rosetta) September 5, 2016 So happy to have seen @Philae2014 again before my mission ends later this month…more about my #CometLanding soon! pic.twitter.com/ErB0ROrgP6 — ESA Rosetta Mission (@ESA_Rosetta) September 5, 2016 This welcome discovery comes only a few weeks before the Rosetta mission ends with the spacecraft impacting on the surface of the comet on September 30th. Congratulations … Continue reading

Pluto, Comet 67P/C-G, and Ceres – Oh My!
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New images from Pluto! New images of Comet 67P/C-G! New images of Ceres! This has been a week of “Too Much Input!” Yesterday, new images of Pluto from the New Horizons spacecraft had Twitter awash with admiration; some were saying that the following image is the most compelling ever released from the space program. I’m not quite there, but close – it is jaw-dropping! The ESA’s Rosetta mission posted some post-perigee images of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, still active and jetting: NASA’s Dawn mission, currently in its high level mapping orbit, has been posting copious amounts of new images of the surface of dwarf planet Ceres: For years now, at every meeting of the Warren Astronomical Society, fellow Solar System Ambassador Ken Bertin has presented an “In the News” segment; he mentioned to me that two decades ago, there was so little astronomy and space science news, he had trouble putting together much of a report. Today, he has to sift through … Continue reading

Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko Before Perihelion
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For the first time in human history, a spacecraft has observed a comet nucleus become active as it reaches perihelion – the point in its orbit when it is closest to the Sun. The Rosetta spacecraft rendezvoused with comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko in August of 2014, and has watched the comet become active in recent weeks as it neared the Sun. These images, and the science being returned from the Rosetta mission are nothing short of spectacular. Hats off to the ESA and Rosetta mission team! Read the full story here: Rosetta’s big day in the Sun Mission Timeline: Here … Continue reading

Across the Universe: Deep Impact
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This article from The Tablet was first published in June, 2005, a mere ten years ago, just before the “Deep Impact” probe hit. The flyby of the comet then, parallels the flyby of Pluto by New Horizons next month. It’s interesting to see what we were hoping to learn… how little we knew; how little we know. The folks who work out the celestial mechanics of space probes are a clever bunch, with a techie’s sense of humor. A few years ago, the NEAR spacecraft arrived at asteroid Eros on Valentine’s Day. The ill-fated Beagle 2 probe was designed to land on Mars on Christmas morning (not the only present that Christmas to arrive broken, I suspect). And this year [2005], on the Fourth of July, an American probe called “Deep Impact” hopes to make a splash as dramatic as any fireworks display by plunging at 37,100 kilometers per hour – London to New York in nine minutes – into the nucleus of the comet Temple … Continue reading

Philae Lander Completes Main Science Mission Before Entering Hibernation
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Rosetta’s lander has completed its primary science mission after nearly 57 hours on Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. So much hard work.. getting tired… my battery voltage is approaching the limit soon now pic.twitter.com/GHl4B8NPzm — Philae Lander (@Philae2014) November 14, 2014 After being out of communication visibility with the lander since 09:58 GMT / 10:58 CET on Friday, Rosetta regained contact with Philae at 22:19 GMT /23:19 CET last night. The signal was initially intermittent, but quickly stabilized and remained very good until 00:36 GMT / 01:36 CET this morning. In that time, the lander returned all of its housekeeping data, as well as science data from the targeted instruments, including ROLIS, COSAC, Ptolemy, SD2 and CONSERT. This completed the measurements planned for the final block of experiments on the surface. In addition, the lander’s body was lifted by about 4 cm and rotated about 35° in an attempt to receive more solar energy. But as the last science data fed back to … Continue reading

Where IS Rosetta Right Now?
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“Where IS the Rosetta and the comet right now?” My wife asked me this before heading off to teach Science, so I this cobbled this together from screen shots from the free NASA Eyes on the Solar System app, and a little editing. Comet 67/P and the Rosetta spacecraft are currently in the middle of the main asteroid belt, heading towards the inner solar system. Comet 67P’s orbital period is 6.44 years. It’s perihelion is between the orbits of Mars and Earth, it’s aphelion is out just past the orbit of Jupiter. The Rosetta mission will end in December of 2015, when the comet has rounded the sun, and is heading out of the inner solar system. … Continue reading