This week, the Rosetta spacecraft reached the destination it’s been working towards since its launch in 2004, and for many years before that: Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. On RTÉ’s Drivetime on Wednesday, Kevin O’Rourke of The Planetary Society, pointed out that this project has become the life’s work of a generation of scientists, including many here in Ireland.
It’s a mission on an epic scale. Launched in March 2004, Rosetta made three fly-bys of Earth and one of Mars, using their gravity to boost its speed. Here’s a fantastic animation which shows how it caught up with the comet over the course of ten years.
During the course of the journey, it’s course took it beyond the orbit of Jupiter, where it powered down for 2 years and 7 months, until it woke up in January of this year.
It can be difficult to sustain public interest in a project that last for decades, but as Rosetta enters its most exciting phase, the ESA has been running a very effective online campaign. Both Rosetta and the landing craft it carries, Philae, have Twitter accounts, and there is a treasure of fascinating multimedia resources on the ESA website. Over the next few months, as the comet approaches the sun, Rosetta will manouver around the comet and map it as it develops its tail and in November, Philae will land on the comet. We can look forward to a lot of exciting pictures and data.
— Philae Lander (@Philae2014) August 6, 2014
— ESA Rosetta Mission (@ESA_Rosetta) August 6, 2014
Here’s a charming video about Rosetta finally catching up with its quarry.