The Rosetta spacecraft’s investigations of Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko are continuing as the mission teams countdown to perihelion on August 13th. Perihelion – the closest point to the Sun along the comet’s orbit – when the comet’s activity is expected to be at its highest. After arriving at the double-lobed comet in August 2014, Rosetta has spent an intense year analyzing the properties of this intriguing body – the interior, surface and surrounding dust, gas and plasma.
While ground-based observations can monitor the development of the coma and tail from afar, Rosetta has a ringside seat for studying the source of this activity directly from the nucleus. One important aspect of Rosetta’s long-term study is watching how the activity waxes and wanes along the comet’s orbit.
The comet has a 6.5 year commute around the Sun from just beyond the orbit of Jupiter at its furthest, to between the orbits of Earth and Mars at it closest.
Rosetta and the comet will be 186 million km from the Sun at its closest approach. ”This will be the first time a spacecraft has been following a comet from close quarters as it moves through this phase of its journey around the Solar System,” notes Matt Taylor, ESA’s Rosetta project scientist.
“We’re looking forward to reaching perihelion, after which we’ll be continuing to monitor how the comet’s nucleus, activity and plasma environment changes in the year after, as part of our long-term studies.”
Also, just released, has been the first scientific analysis of the data returned by Rosetta’s lander Philae last November have found complex molecules that could be key building blocks of life, along with data on the daily rise and fall of temperature, and an assessment of the surface properties and internal structure of the comet as part the Data were obtained during the lander’s seven-hour descent to its first touchdown at the Agilkia landing site. Shortly after touchdown, it became apparent that Philae had rebounded and so a number of measurements continued as the lander took flight for an additional two hours some 100 meters above the comet, before finally landing.
The gas-sniffing instruments on Philae analyzed samples entering the lander and determined the chemical composition of the comet’s gas and dust, important tracers of the raw materials present in the early Solar System. Also photos from Philae’s cameras provided a visual comparison of the topography at the two touchdown locations.
Source: European Space Agency