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Rosetta Closing in on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko after Decade Long Chase

ESA’s Rosetta Spacecraft nears final approach to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in late July 2014. This collage of imagery from Rosetta combines Navcam camera images at right taken nearing final approach from July 25 to July 31, 2014, with OSIRIS wide angle camera image at left of comet’s coma on July 25 from a distance of around 3000 km. On July 31 Rosetta had approached to within 1327 km.  Images to scale and contrast enhanced to show further detail. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM/OSIRIS/MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA    Collage/Processing: Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer

ESA’s Rosetta Spacecraft nears final approach to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in late July 2014. This collage of imagery from Rosetta combines Navcam camera images at right taken nearing final approach from July 25 to July 31, 2014, with OSIRIS wide angle camera image at left of comet’s coma on July 25 from a distance of around 3000 km. On July 31 Rosetta had approached to within 1327 km. Images to scale and contrast enhanced to show further detail. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM/OSIRIS/MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA
Collage/Processing: Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
Story updated

The European Space Agency’s (ESA) Rosetta spacecraft is at last rapidly closing in on its target destination, Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, after a decade long chase of 6.4 billion kilometers through interplanetary space. See imagery above and below.

As of today, Friday, August 1, ESA reports that Rosetta has approached the ‘rubber ducky looking’ comet to within a distance of less than 1153 kilometers. That distance narrows with each passing moment as the speeding robotic probe moves closer and closer to the comet while looping around the sun at about 55,000 kilometers per hour (kph).

Rosetta is now just 5 days away from becoming Earth’s first probe ever to rendezvous and enter orbit around a comet.

See above our image collage of Rosetta nearing final approach with the spacecrafts most recent daily Navcam camera images, all taken within the past week starting on July 25 and including up to the most recently release image snapped on July 31. The navcam images are all to scale to give the sense of the spacecraft approaching the comet and revealing ever greater detail as it grows in apparent size in the cameras field of view. The navcam images were also taken at about the same time of day each day.

The highest resolution navcam image yet of the two lobed comet – merged at a bright band – was taken on July 31 from a distance of 1327 kilometers and published within the past few hours by ESA today, Aug 1. It shows the best view yet of the surface features of the mysterious bright necked wanderer composed of primordial ice, rock, dust and more.

The Navcam collage is combined with an OSIRIS (Optical, Spectroscopic, and Infrared Remote Imaging System) wide angle camera view of the comet and its asymmetric coma of ice and dust snapped on July 25 from a distance of around 3000 km, and with an exposure time of 300 seconds. The OSIRIS image covers an area of about 150 x 150 km (90 mi x 90 mi). The images have been contrast enhanced to bring out more detail.

Scientists speculate that the comets bright neck region could be caused by differences in material or grain size or topological effects.

Rosetta’s history making orbital feat is slated for Aug. 6 following the final short duration orbit insertion burns on Aug. 3 and Aug. 6 to place Rosetta into orbit at an altitude of about 100 kilometers (62 miles) where it will study and map the 4 kilometer wide comet for some 17 months.

The comet rotates around once every 12.4 hours.

Crop from the 31 July processed image of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, to focus on the comet nucleus. Credits: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM

Crop from the 31 July processed image of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, to focus on the comet nucleus. Credits: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM

“If any glitches in space or on ground had delayed the most recent burns, orbital mechanics dictate that we’d only have had a matter of a few days to fix the problem, re-plan the burn and carry it out, otherwise we run the risk of missing the comet,” says Trevor Morley, a flight dynamics specialist at ESOC.

In November 2014 the Rosetta mothership will deploy the Philae science lander for the first ever attempt to land on a comet’s nucleus using harpoons to anchor itself to the surface while the comet is rotating.

As Rosetta edges closer on its final lap, engineers at mission control at the European Space Operations Centre (ESOC), in Darmstadt, Germany have commanded the probes navigation camera (navcam) to capture daily images while the other science instruments also collect measurements analyzing the comets physical characteristics and chemical composition in detail.

ESA’s Rosetta Spacecraft nears final approach to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in late July 2014. This image collage from Rosetta combines Navcam camera images taken nearing final approach from July 25 (3000 km distant) to July 31, 2014 (1327 km distant).  Top row shows images as seen by spacecraft. Bottom row shows images rotated to same orientation.  Images to scale and contrast enhanced to show further detail. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM. Collage/Processing: Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer

ESA’s Rosetta Spacecraft nears final approach to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in late July 2014. This image collage from Rosetta combines Navcam camera images taken nearing final approach from July 25 (3000 km distant) to July 31, 2014 (1327 km distant). Top row shows images as seen by spacecraft. Bottom row shows images rotated to same orientation. Images to scale and contrast enhanced to show further detail. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM. Collage/Processing: Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer

The probe has already discovered that the comet’s surface temperature is surprisingly warm at –70ºC, which is some 20–30ºC warmer than predicted. This indicates the surface is too hot to be covered in ice and must instead have a dark, dusty crust, says ESA.

Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko is a short period comet some 555 million kilometres from the Sun at this time, about three times further away than Earth and located between the orbits of Jupiter and Mars.

You can watch the Aug. 6 orbital arrival live via a livestream transmission from ESA’s spacecraft operations centre in Darmstadt, Germany.

While you were reading this the gap between the comet and Rosetta closed to less than 1000 kilometers!

The coma of Rosetta's target comet as seen with the OSIRIS wide-angle camera. The image spans 150 km and was taken on 25 July 2014 with an exposure time of 330 seconds. The greyscale relates to the particle density in the coma, with highest density close to the nucleus, becoming more diffuse further away. The hazy circular structure on the right is an artefact. The nucleus is also overexposured. The specks and the streaks in the background are attributed to background stars and cosmic rays.  Credits: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

The coma of Rosetta’s target comet as seen with the OSIRIS wide-angle camera. The image spans 150 km and was taken on 25 July 2014 with an exposure time of 330 seconds. The greyscale relates to the particle density in the coma, with highest density close to the nucleus, becoming more diffuse further away. The hazy circular structure on the right is an artefact. The nucleus is also overexposured. The specks and the streaks in the background are attributed to background stars and cosmic rays. Credits: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Curiosity, Opportunity, Orion, SpaceX, Boeing, Orbital Sciences, commercial space, MAVEN, MOM, Mars and more Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

ESA’s Rosetta Spacecraft nears final approach to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in late July 2014. This collage of imagery from Rosetta combines Navcam camera images at right taken nearing final approach from July 25 (3000 km distant) to July 31, 2014 (1327 km distant), with negative OSIRIS wide angle camera image at left of comet’s expanding coma cloud on July 25. Images to scale and contrast enhanced to show further detail. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM/OSIRIS/MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA    Collage/Processing: Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer

ESA’s Rosetta Spacecraft nears final approach to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in late July 2014. This collage of imagery from Rosetta combines Navcam camera images at right taken nearing final approach from July 25 (3000 km distant) to July 31, 2014 (1327 km distant), with negative OSIRIS wide angle camera image at left of comet’s expanding coma cloud on July 25. Images to scale and contrast enhanced to show further detail. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM/OSIRIS/MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA
Collage/Processing: Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer

Birthday cakes at @ESA_Rosetta Flight Dynamics are taking strange binary shapes these days... #ESOC. Credit:  ESA

Birthday cakes at @ESA_Rosetta Flight Dynamics are taking strange binary shapes these days… #ESOC. Credit: ESA

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • UFOsMOTHER August 2, 2014, 7:45 AM

    Wow Rosetta looks like two Comets joined together by a soft collision, I cant wait to get even closer to check this one out Fantastic!

  • Aqua4U August 2, 2014, 1:06 PM

    I know the closing speed has to be very small to insert Rosetta into orbit around the comet. Lessee here.. On July 31 Rosetta was 1,327km away from the comet. On Aug. 1, 1,153km. A difference of 174km. Divided by 24 hours renders a speed of approx. 7.25km/hr. Average human walking speed is ~5km/hr, so Rosetta approaches the comet at a brisk walking speed and will continue to slow to be captured? What will be the eventual orbital velocity?

    • eSpace August 3, 2014, 6:43 PM

      @Aqua4U Rosetta completed a pre-insertion burn today and will perform its orbital insertion burn this Wednesday, Aug. 6 after which it’s speed relative to the comet will be about 1m/sec or about 2 miles per hour. For a very interesting look at this rendezvous maneuver, take a look at this Rosetta Blog post:

      http://blogs.esa.int/rosetta/2014/08/01/how-rosetta-arrives-at-a-comet/

  • kkr August 2, 2014, 8:11 PM

    The formula for orbital velocity is sqrt(GM/R)
    G=6.67E-11 m3/s2kg
    M (per Wikipedia) = 3.14E+12 kg
    R = 100 km = 10E5 m
    then
    V = only 4.6 cm/s which is 1/10 mph
    Pretty darn slow!
    At that rate and at R 0f 100 km, it’ll take 159 days to complete one orbit.

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