Orbiting the Sun, comets are small balls of ice and dust with a tail of gas. They appear and disappear in regular cycles. Since the dawn of civilization, these small celestial bodies have been looked at by mankind in awe and fear. In ancient times they were thought of as gods.
For generations, the comets have been fascinating astronomers, scientists and philosophers who tried to understand what they were and where they came from. Several theories have been propounded about the origin of the comets. The Greek philosopher Aristotle compared them to meteorites. However, with the passage of time, several new facts about them come to light.
As human beings are curious by nature, scientists are still trying to find out as much as possible of comets. Hence missions are being sent to these comets to gather new scientific findings about them. Rosetta is one such mission sent to a comet to study it in detail.
Rosetta Mission – An important event in Space exploration
Originally planned to be launched in 2003, the Rosetta was finally launched on March 2, 2004 from the European base at Kourou (French Guiana). It became the first spacecraft to orbit and land on a comet when it sent its Philae lander down to 67P/ Churyumov-Gerasimenko comet on 6 August 2014. It was indeed an unprecedented astronomical event.
During these ten years the spacecraft covered 6400 million kilometers in space.More than 500 million kilometers from Earth, 67P/ Churyumov-Gerasimenko is located between the orbits of Jupiter and Mars. Originally Wirtanen was the comet where Rosetta was to land on.
One of the most daring space missions ever, Rosetta is named after the stone that allowed scholars to decipher hieroglyphics, the language of the Egyptians. This mission has the potential of unraveling the mysteries of the origin of the solar system and the keys to the appearance of the water of life on Earth.
Chronology of Rosetta Mission
March 2, 2004-Rosetta is launched from the ESA spaceport in Kourou (French Guyana) aboard an Ariane 5 rocket. Its goal was to travel to the orbit of the comet 67 / P Churyumov-Gerasimenko to know the origins of the Solar System and the keys to the emergence of life on Earth.
June 30, 2005- Rosetta spacecraft takes the first picture of comet 9P/Tempel 1, September 2008 – Rosetta flies by a distance of only 800 kilometers from asteroid Steins. With a diameter of only 4.6 km, Steins is located between Mars and Jupiter and a small asteroid of irregular shape.
July 2010 – Rosetta probe approached asteroid Lutetia, coming to within a distance of 3,162 km from it.
June 8, 2011- Rosetta enters hibernation in deep space.
January 20, 2014- After spending 957 days in hibernation, Rosetta wakes up.
August 6, 2014- Enters into the orbit of 67P/ Churyumov-Gerasimenko comet.
September 10, 2014- Rosetta begins to map the comet’s surface.
November 12, 2014- The most sensitive day of the Rosetta mission. Philae is placed on the 67P/ Churyumov-Gerasimenko comet.