Comet-Chasing Rosetta's Interplanetary Travel Diary Is Awesome

European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft will be woken up from deep-space hibernation on 20 January 2014 to reach its final destination, reported ESA today.

"Comets are the primitive building blocks of the Solar System and the likely source of much of Earth’s water, perhaps even delivering to Earth the ingredients that helped life evolve. By studying the nature of a comet close up with an orbiter and lander, Rosetta will show us more about the role of comets in the evolution of the Solar System" - ESA explains the main goal of the Rosetta mission.

Rosetta was launched on 2 March 2004, and using four gravity slingshots set course to rendezvous with Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko in May 2014. So far Rosetta made three flybys of Earth, on 4 March 2005, 13 November 2007 and 13 November 2009, and one of Mars, on 25 February 2007, the spacecraft also flew by two asteroids, 2867 Steins and 21 Lutetia (on 5 September 2008 and 10 July 2010). Rosetta took extensive close-up images of the two asteroids and also documented with its several cameras the three planetary bodies it passed by. What a journey in the Solar System!

In July 2011 Rosetta was put into deep-space hibernation for the coldest, most distant leg of the journey as it travelled some 800 million kilometres from the Sun, close to the orbit of Jupiter. The spacecraft was oriented so that its solar wings faced the Sun to receive as much sunlight as possible, and it was placed into a slow spin to maintain stability.

Rosetta’s internal alarm clock is set for 10:00 GMT on 20 January 2014. Once the spacecraft is woken up, it will head for rendezvous with the comet in May. After extensive mapping of the comet’s surface during August and September, a landing site for the 100 kg Philae probe will be chosen. In November the Philae probe will be deployed to the comet surface. It will be first time that landing on a comet has ever been attempted. Given the almost negligible gravity of the comet’s 4 km-wide nucleus, Philae will ‘dock’ with it using ice screws and harpoons to stop it from rebounding back into space.

Comet-Chasing Rosetta's Interplanetary Travel Diary Is Awesome

Image source: ESA/AOES Medialab

Philae will send back panorama images of its surroundings and very high-resolution pictures of the surface and will perform on-the-spot analysis of the composition of the ices and organic material. Rosetta will follow the comet to its closest distance to the Sun on 13 August 2015 and as it moves back towards the outer Solar System. The nominal mission end is December 2015. Read more about this mission.

ESA selected a series of stunning images to help us to imagine what a decade long journey through the inner Solar System would look like:

Moonrise above the Pacific 22:06 UTC 4 March 2005. The Moon rising above the Pacific at 22:06 UTC, 4 March 2005, just three minutes before the point of closest approach during Rosetta's Earth fly-by.

Comet-Chasing Rosetta's Interplanetary Travel Diary Is Awesome

Image source: ESA


Earth from Rosetta 12:47 UTC 5 March 2005. This image was recorded by Navigation Camera 1 at 12:47 UTC with an integration time of 0.02 second.

Comet-Chasing Rosetta's Interplanetary Travel Diary Is Awesome

Image source: ESA


Stunning image of Rosetta above Mars's Mawrth Vallis region taken by the CIVA imaging instrument on Rosetta's Philae lander just 4 minutes before closest approach at a distance of some 1000 km from Mars. A portion of the spacecraft and one of its solar arrays are visible in nice detail.

Comet-Chasing Rosetta's Interplanetary Travel Diary Is Awesome

Image source: CIVA/Philae/ESA Rosetta


True-colour image of Mars generated using the OSIRIS orange (red), green and blue colour filers. The image was acquired on 24 February at 19:28 CET from a distance of about 240 000 km; image resolution is about 5 km/pixel.

Comet-Chasing Rosetta's Interplanetary Travel Diary Is Awesome

Image source: ESA © 2007 MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/ LAM/IAA/ RSSD/ INTA/ UPM/ DASP/ IDA


This picture of the Moon was taken by the navigation camera (NAVCAM) right after the closest approach to our planet, at 00:10 CET on 14 November, as Rosetta’s second Earth swing-by concluded, while the spacecraft was flying at a height of about 6250 km from the surface.

Comet-Chasing Rosetta's Interplanetary Travel Diary Is Awesome

Image source: ESA


Diamond shaped asteroid Steins seen from a distance of 800 km, taken by the OSIRIS imaging system from two different perspectives. The effective diameter of the asteroid is 5 km, approximately as predicted. At the top of the asteroid (as shown in this image), a large crater, approximately 1.5 km in size, can be seen. Scientists were amazed that the asteroid survived the impact that was responsible for the crater.

Comet-Chasing Rosetta's Interplanetary Travel Diary Is Awesome

Image source: ESA ©2008 MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/RSSD/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA


First view as Rosetta approaches home. Image of the Earth acquired with the OSIRIS narrow-angle camera from a distance of 633 000 km on 12 November 2009 at 13:28 CET.

Comet-Chasing Rosetta's Interplanetary Travel Diary Is Awesome

Image source: ESA ©2009 MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/RSSD/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA


Anticyclone cloud structures over the South Pacific, seen with the OSIRIS Imaging System’s narrow-angle camera on 13 November at 06:48 CET.

Comet-Chasing Rosetta's Interplanetary Travel Diary Is Awesome

Image source: ESA ©2009 MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/RSSD/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA


Lutetia at closest approach.

Comet-Chasing Rosetta's Interplanetary Travel Diary Is Awesome

Image source: ESA 2010 MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/RSSD/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA


At a distance of 36000km the OSIRIS Narrow Angle Camera (NAC) took this image catching the planet Saturn in the background.

Comet-Chasing Rosetta's Interplanetary Travel Diary Is Awesome

Image source: ESA 2010 MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/RSSD/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDAA


Farewell Lutetia.

Comet-Chasing Rosetta's Interplanetary Travel Diary Is Awesome

Image source: ESA 2010 MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/RSSD/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA