History was made yesterday between the orbits of Jupiter and Mars. After a decade filled with anticipation and hope, the Rosetta spacecraft successfully reached its target, Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. Moreover, at only 100 km from the surface, the spacecraft will eventually be guided into an orbit around the comet.
A comet is an icy body which may emit various particles and gases into space. There are millions of comets within our solar system, but most stay dormant in the Oort cloud: the outermost reaches of the Sun’s influence which contains trillions of objects most likely created during the formation of the solar system. The Oort cloud is vast, with objects as far as 5o,ooo astronomical units (AU) away. One AU is the distance between the earth and the sun, so the Oort cloud is REALLY big!
Comets are considered “active” after they become under the influence of the Sun’s gravitational pull. Generally, they have elliptical orbits. Once comets approach the Sun, they are sling-shotted around it due to the gravitational influence… Or smash into the Sun creating a large explosion! Comet 67P only has an orbit of 6.45 years. However, it may take hundreds of year for one comet to complete an orbit.
The purpose of Rosetta’s mission, which began in 2004, is to study the chemical foundations of Comet 67P through sending a lander named Philae to the surface. There, Philae will conduct many tests and send the collected results back to the ESA (European Space Agency).
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Keep looking to the stars,