Is Rosetta ready to reveal the comet’s secrets?

At the next Space Tuesday, get your front row seats to find out if the probe is in shape to attempt its landing on a comet in November, after 10 years in space.

A series of tests has just been carried out to verify that the instruments being carried by the lander onboard the Rosetta probe are in full working order. The engineers and researchers on the project may, therefore, be about to celebrate their second victory. The first came on January 20th, when Rosetta awoke after spending the last several years in hibernation while travelling through outer space. The CNES has invited two experts from the program, Jean-Pierre Bibring and Philippe Gaudon, to come announce the results and discuss what’s next for the mission. Before Rosetta manages to rendezvous with a comet, rendezvous tonight with the CNES, 19h30 at the Café du Pont Neuf, in Paris or at #CNEStweetup.

A series of tests has just been carried out to verify that the instruments being carried by the lander onboard the Rosetta probe are in working order. The engineers and researchers on the project may, therefore, be about to celebrate their second victory. The first came on January 20th, when Rosetta awoke after spending the last several years in hibernation while travelling through outer space. The CNES has invited two experts from the program, Jean-Pierre Bibring of the Institut d’Astrophysique spatiale and Philippe Gaudon of the CNES, to come announce the results and discuss what’s next for the mission. Before Rosetta's rendezvous with a comet, rendezvous tonight with the CNES, 19h30 at the Café du Pont Neuf, in Paris, or at #CNEStweetup.

Cet article existe également en français :  Rosetta pourra-t-elle encore percer les mystères des comètes ?

Comets are small objects of the solar system, only about 15 kilometers in size. Their density is very low and we still know little about their composition and structure.

(Source: ESA)

The probe is currently a little more than 650 million kilometers from Earth and 3.5 million km from its destination, the comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko. After a journey across our galaxy, and 7 months out from its landing, it’s time for the experts to check whether a decade in space has caused any deterioration of the equipment. Even if all necessary precautions were taken by the engineers, the instruments are never safe from potential malfunctions. The conditions in space are extremely hostile, with temperatures that can fall very low. In the area around Jupiter, where Rosetta is at the moment, the thermometer hits -160°C.

Rosetta and Philae, its lander, hold, in all, 21 instruments onboard. Their main objective is to help researchers reveal the secrets of these celestial objects that remain very mysterious. Eight of the 11 instruments carried by the orbiter and 4 of the 10 aboard the lander have benefited from the expertise of French laboratories. Among them, the CONSERT tool will use x-ray analysis to probe the core of the comet and determine its structure.

The Rosetta probe is the first ever to attempt what the specialists call a “rendezvous” with a comet. It won’t content itself to fly past the cluster of rocks and ice, as its predecessors have done, but will follow the comet the entire way as it approaches the sun. Its arrival in orbit around the object is planned for September, just a few weeks before the solar radiation causes an atmosphere and the tails of dust and water characteristic of comets to appear.

Rosetta made use of the gravitational assistance of Mars to continue its journey towards an encounter with the comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko. (Source: ESA)

“The event with the CNES falls right in the middle of the action! The first results of the tests will have just come out,” Philippe Gaudon  says. In the coming months, if all goes well, Rosetta could well bring researchers a better understanding of the formation of the Solar System. But not only that: the analyses carried out could also back up the theory that the building blocks of life may have been brought to our planet by comets.

For the curious among you, and for all those who like to be the first to know, the CNES, the Bar des sciences and MyScienceWork invite you tonight, April 15th, at 19h30 to the Café du Pont Neuf, or to follow live on twitter: #CNEStweetup.