Following the flawless and history making arrival of the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Rosetta spacecraft at its long sought destination of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on Wednesday, Aug. 6, the goal of conducting ground breaking science at this utterly alien and bizarre icy wanderer that looks like a ‘Scientific Disneyland’ can actually begin.
Rosetta is the first spacecraft in history to rendezvous with a comet and enter orbit – after a more than 10 year chase of 6.4 billion kilometers (4 Billion miles) along a highly complex trajectory from Earth. The arrival event was broadcast live from mission control at ESA’s spacecraft operations centre (ESOC) in Darmstadt, Germany. Read my complete arrival story – here.
So what’s ahead for Rosetta? Another audacious and history making event – Landing on the comet!
A top priority task is also another highly complex task – ‘Finding a landing strip’ on the bizarre world of Comet 67P for the piggybacked Philae comet lander equipped with 10 science instruments.
“The challenge ahead is to map the surface and find a landing strip,” said Andrea Accomazzo, ESA Rosetta Spacecraft Operations Manager, at the Aug. 6 ESA webcast.
That will be no easy task based on the spectacular imagery captured by the OSIRIS high resolution science camera and the Navcam camera that has revealed an utterly wacky and incredibly differentiated world like none other we have ever visited or expected when the mission was conceived.
Magnificently detailed new navcam images were released by ESA today, Aug, 7, streaming back to Earth across some 405 million kilometers (250 million miles) of interplanetary space – see above and below.
The team will have its hand full trying to find a safe spot for touchdown.
“We now see lots of structure and details. Lots of topography is visible on the surface,” said Holger Sierks, principal investigator for Rosetta’s OSIRIS camera from the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Gottingen, Germany, during the webcast.
“There is a big depression and 150 meter high cliffs, rubble piles, and also we see smooth areas and plains. It’s really fantastic”
“We see a village of house size boulders. Some about 10 meters in size and bigger and they vary in brightness. And some with sharp edges. We don’t know their composition yet,” explained Sierks.