Comet’s Head Selected as Landing Site for Rosetta’s Historic Philae Lander

The ‘head’ of the bizarre comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko has been selected as the primary landing site for the Rosetta spacecraft’s attached Philae lander, attempting mankind’s first ever landing on a comet in mid-November.

Scientists leading the European Space Agency’s Rosetta mission announced the primary landing site at a media briefing today, Sept. 15, at ESA headquarters.

After weeks of detailed study and debate focused on balancing scientific interest with finding a ‘technically feasible’ and safe Philae touchdown site, the team chose a target dubbed Site J as the primary landing site from among a list of five initially selected sites, said Stephan Ulamec, Philae Lander Manager at the DLR German Aerospace Center, at the briefing.

“Site J is the primary landing site around the head of the comet,” Ulamec announced.

“Site C is the backup site on the body [near the bottom of the comet].”

“This was not an easy task. Site J is a mix of flat areas and rough terrain. It’s not a perfectly flat area. There is still risk with high slope areas.”

Credits: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA
Credits: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

He also made clear that there is still some landing uncertainty with the targeting of the lander onto the comet.

Site J is an intriguing region on Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko that offers unique scientific potential, with hints of activity nearby, and minimum risk to the lander compared to the other candidate sites, according to ESA.

“As we have seen from recent close-up images, the comet is a beautiful but dramatic world – it is scientifically exciting, but its shape makes it operationally challenging,” says Ulamec.

“None of the candidate landing sites met all of the operational criteria at the 100% level, but Site J is clearly the best solution.”

Philae’s history-making landing on comet 67P is currently scheduled for around Nov. 11, 2014, and will be entirely automatic. The 100 kg lander is equipped with 10 science instruments.

“All of Rosetta’s instruments are supporting the landing site selection,” said Holger Sierks, principal investigator for Rosetta’s OSIRIS camera from the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Gottingen, Germany.

“Site J is just 500-600 meters away from some pits and an area of comet outgassing activity. They will become more active as we get closer to the sun.

The team is in a race against time to select a suitable landing zone quickly and develop the complex landing sequence since the comet warms up and the surface becomes ever more active as it swings in closer to the sun and makes the landing ever more hazardous.

Since the descent to the comet is passive it is only possible to predict that the landing point will place within a ‘landing ellipse’ typically a few hundred metres in size, the team elaborated.

The three-legged lander will fire two harpoons and use ice screws to anchor itself to the 4 kilometer (2.5 mile) wide comet’s surface. Philae will collect stereo and panoramic images and also drill 20 to 30 centimeters into and sample its incredibly varied surface.

“We will make the first ever in situ analysis of a comet at this site, giving us an unparalleled insight into the composition, structure and evolution of a comet,” says Jean-Pierre Bibring, a lead lander scientist and principal investigator of the CIVA instrument at the IAS in Orsay, France.

“Site J in particular offers us the chance to analyse pristine material, characterise the properties of the nucleus, and study the processes that drive its activity.”

“It’s amazing how much we have learned so far.”

“We are in a true revolution of how we think Planets form and evolve,” Bibring elaborated at the briefing.

“We will make many types of scientific measurements of the comet from the surface. We will get a complete panoramic view of the comet on the macroscopic and microscopic scale.”

Rosetta is currently orbiting the comet from a distance of 30 km, said ESA Rosetta flight director Andrea Accomazzo. He said it will likely go even closer to 20 km and perhaps 10 km.

Four-image photo mosaic comprising images taken by Rosetta's navigation camera on 2 September 2014 from a distance of 56 km from comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The mosaic has been contrast enhanced to bring out details of the coma, especially of jets of dust emanating from the neck region. Credits: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM/Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Four-image photo mosaic comprising images taken by Rosetta’s navigation camera on 2 September 2014 from a distance of 56 km from comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The mosaic has been contrast enhanced to bring out details of the coma, especially of jets of dust emanating from the neck region. Credits: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM/Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

“Now that we’re closer to the comet, continued science and mapping operations will help us improve the analysis of the primary and backup landing sites,” says ESA Rosetta flight director Andrea Accomazzo.

“Of course, we cannot predict the activity of the comet between now and landing, and on landing day itself. A sudden increase in activity could affect the position of Rosetta in its orbit at the moment of deployment and in turn the exact location where Philae will land, and that’s what makes this a risky operation.”

Four-image photo mosaic comprising images taken by Rosetta's navigation camera on 31 August 2014 from a distance of 61 km from comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The mosaic has been rotated and contrast enhanced to bring out details. The comet nucleus is about 4 km across. Credits: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM/Ken Kremer/Marco Di Lorenzo
Four-image photo mosaic comprising images taken by Rosetta’s navigation camera on 31 August 2014 from a distance of 61 km from comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The mosaic has been rotated and contrast enhanced to bring out details. The comet nucleus is about 4 km across. Credits: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM/Ken Kremer/Marco Di Lorenzo

The final landing site selections were made at a meeting being held this weekend on 13 and 14 September 2014 between the Rosetta Lander Team and the Rosetta orbiter team at CNES in Toulouse, France.

“No one has ever attempted to land on a comet before, so it is a real challenge,” says Fred Jansen, ESA Rosetta mission manager.

“The complicated ‘double’ structure of the comet has had a considerable impact on the overall risks related to landing, but they are risks worth taking to have the chance of making the first ever soft landing on a comet.”

Five candidate sites were identified on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko for Rosetta’s Philae lander.   The approximate locations of the five regions are marked on these OSIRIS narrow-angle camera images taken on 16 August 2014 from a distance of about 100 km. Enlarged insets below highlight 5 landing zones.  Credits: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA  Processing: Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer
Five candidate sites were identified on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko for Rosetta’s Philae lander. The approximate locations of the five regions are marked on these OSIRIS narrow-angle camera images taken on 16 August 2014 from a distance of about 100 km. Enlarged insets below highlight 5 landing zones. Credits: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA Processing: Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Rosetta, Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Rosetta Captures Breathtaking Comet Views Advancing Landing Site Selection

The Rosetta spacecraft is capturing ever more breathtaking views of its target comet that are significantly advancing landing site selection for the history making touchdown on the bizarre worlds nucleus by the attached Philae lander.

Today ESA released the latest high resolution images of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko taken by the OSIRIS science camera on Sept. 5, and is shown above.

Jagged cliffs and prominent boulders are clearly visible in unprecedented detail on the head and body of Comet 67P displaying a multitude of different terrains in the new image taken from a distance of 62 kilometers.

Meanwhile the Rosetta science team is using the OSIRIS and navcam camera images to create a preliminary map of the comets surface. The map is color coded to divide the comet into several distinct morphological regions.

Several morphologically different regions are indicated in this preliminary map, which is oriented with the comet’s ‘body’ in the foreground and the ‘head’ in the background.  Credits: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA
Several morphologically different regions are indicated in this preliminary map, which is oriented with the comet’s ‘body’ in the foreground and the ‘head’ in the background.
Credits: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

“With various areas dominated by cliffs, depressions, craters, boulders or even parallel grooves, 67P/C-G displays a multitude of different terrains. Some areas even appear to have been shaped by the comet’s activity,” the Rosetta team said in the release.

The images were also shown at today’s scientific presentations at a special Rosetta research session at the 2014 European Planetary Science Congress being held in Cascais, Portugal.

The scientists are striving to meld all the imagery and data gathered from Rosetta’s 11 instruments in order to elucidate the composition and evolution of the different regions.

The mapping data is also being used to narrow the ‘Top 5’ Philae landing site candidates down to a primary and backup choice.

The final landing site selections will be made at a meeting being held this weekend on 13 and 14 September 2014 between the Rosetta Lander Team and the Rosetta orbiter team at CNES in Toulouse, France.

Four-image photo mosaic comprising images taken by Rosetta's navigation camera on 2 September 2014 from a distance of 56 km from comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The mosaic has been contrast enhanced to bring out details of the coma, especially of jets of dust emanating from the neck region. Credits: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM/Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Four-image photo mosaic comprising images taken by Rosetta’s navigation camera on 2 September 2014 from a distance of 56 km from comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The mosaic has been contrast enhanced to bring out details of the coma, especially of jets of dust emanating from the neck region.
Credits: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM/Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Philae’s history making landing on comet 67P is currently scheduled for around Nov. 11, 2014, and will be entirely automatic. The 100 kg lander is equipped with 10 science instruments.

The three-legged lander will fire two harpoons and use ice screws to anchor itself to the 4 kilometer (2.5 mile) wide comet’s surface. Philae will collect stereo and panoramic images and also drill 23 centimeters into and sample its incredibly varied surface.

Four-image photo mosaic comprising images taken by Rosetta's navigation camera on 31 August 2014 from a distance of 61 km from comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The mosaic has been rotated and contrast enhanced to bring out details. The comet nucleus is about 4 km across. Credits: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM/Ken Kremer/Marco Di Lorenzo
Four-image photo mosaic comprising images taken by Rosetta’s navigation camera on 31 August 2014 from a distance of 61 km from comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The mosaic has been rotated and contrast enhanced to bring out details. The comet nucleus is about 4 km across. Credits: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM/Ken Kremer/Marco Di Lorenzo

The comet nucleus is about 4 km (2.5 mi) across.

The team is in a race against time to select a suitable landing zone soon since the comet warms up and the surface becomes ever more active as it swings in closer to the sun and makes the landing ever more hazardous.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Rosetta, Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Five candidate sites were identified on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko for Rosetta’s Philae lander.   The approximate locations of the five regions are marked on these OSIRIS narrow-angle camera images taken on 16 August 2014 from a distance of about 100 km. Enlarged insets below highlight 5 landing zones.  Credits: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA  Processing: Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer
Five candidate sites were identified on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko for Rosetta’s Philae lander. The approximate locations of the five regions are marked on these OSIRIS narrow-angle camera images taken on 16 August 2014 from a distance of about 100 km. Enlarged insets below highlight 5 landing zones. Credits: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA Processing: Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer

Coma Dust Collection Science starts for Rosetta at Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko

With the historic arrival of the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Rosetta spacecraft at destination Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko flawlessly accomplished on August 6, 2014 after a decade long journey, ground breaking up close science at this bizarre world has begun while the team diligently and simultaneously searches for a landing site for the attached Philae comet lander.

Rosetta started collecting cometary dust from the coma encircling the comet’s nucleus with the onboard COSIMA instrument on Sunday, August 10, 2014 as the spacecraft orbits around and ahead of the icy wanderer from a distance of approximately 100 kilometers (62 miles). See coma image below.

Hopes are high that unprecedented science discoveries await at this alien world described as a “Scientific Disneyland,” by Mark McCaughrean, senior scientific adviser to ESA’s Science Directorate, during ESA’s live arrival day webcast. “It’s just astonishing.”

COSIMA stands for Cometary Secondary Ion Mass Analyser and is one of Rosetta’s suite of 11 state-of-the-art science instruments with a combined mass of 165 kg.

Its purpose is to conduct the first “in situ” analysis of the grains of dust particles emitted from the comets nucleus and determine their physical and chemical characteristics, including whether they are organic or inorganic – in essence what is cometary dust material made of and how it differs from the surface composition.

COSIMA will collect the coma dust using 24 specially designed ‘target holders’ – the first of which was opened to study the comets environment on Aug. 10. Since the comet is not especially active right now, the team plans to keep the target holder open for at least a month and check the progress of any particle collections on a weekly basis.

COSISCOPE image of the first target taken on 19 July 2014 (before the exposure, on 10 August, for cometary dust collection). The 1x1 cm target consists of a gold plate covered with a thin layer (30 µm) of gold nanoparticles (“gold black”). Illumination is by two LEDs, from the right side in this case. The bright dots on the vertical strip on the right side are used for target identification and for defining the coordinate system. Credits: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for COSIMA Team MPS/CSNSM/UNIBW/TUORLA/IWF/IAS/ESA/BUW/MPE/LPC2E/LCM/FMI/UTU/LISA/UOFC/vH&S
COSISCOPE image of the first target taken on 19 July 2014 (before the exposure, on 10 August, for cometary dust collection). The 1×1 cm target consists of a gold plate covered with a thin layer (30 µm) of gold nanoparticles (“gold black”). Illumination is by two LEDs, from the right side in this case. The bright dots on the vertical strip on the right side are used for target identification and for defining the coordinate system. Credits: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for COSIMA Team MPS/CSNSM/UNIBW/TUORLA/IWF/IAS/ESA/BUW/MPE/LPC2E/LCM/FMI/UTU/LISA/UOFC/vH&S

In fact the team says the coma environment “is still comparable to a high-quality cleanroom”at this time.

But everyone expects that to change radically as Rosetta continues escorting Comet 67P as it loops around the sun, getting closer and warming the surface every day and until reaching perihelion in August 2015.

COSIMA is managed by the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research (Max-Planck-Institut für Sonnensystemforschung ) in Katlenburg-Lindau, Germany, with Principal Investigator Martin Hilchenbach.

There are also substantial contributions from the Institut d’Astrophysique Spatiale in France, Finnish Meteorological Institute, Osterreichisches Forschungszentrum Seibersdorf and more.

The target holders measure about one square centimeter and were developed by the Universität der Bundeswehr in Germany.

Each of these targets measures one square centimeter and is comprised of a gold plate covered with a thin 30 µm layer of gold nanoparticles (“gold black”) which the team says should “decelerate and capture cometary dust particles impacting with velocities of ~100 m/s.”

The target will be illuminated by a pair of LED’s to find the dust particles. The particles will be analyzed by COSIMA’s built in mass spectrometer after being located on the target holder by the French supplied COSISCOPE microscopic camera and ionized by a beam of indium ions.

Photo of the COSIMA (Cometary Secondary Ion Mass Analyser) instrument on Rosetta.  Credit: Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research/ESA
Photo of the COSIMA (Cometary Secondary Ion Mass Analyser) instrument on Rosetta. Credit: Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research/ESA

The team expects any grains found on the first target to be analyzed by mid-September 2014.

“COSIMA uses the method of Secondary Ion Mass Spectrometry. They will be fired at with a beam of Indium ions. This will spark individual ions (we say secondary ions) from their surfaces, which will then be analysed with COSIMA’s mass spectrometer,” according to a description from the COSIMA team.

The mass spec has the capability to analyze the elemental composition in an atomic mass range of 1 to 4000 atomic mass units, determine isotopic abundances of some key elements, characterize organic components and functional groups, and conduct mineralic and petrographic characterization of the inorganic phases, all of which will inform as as never before about solar system chemistry.

Comets are leftover remnants from the formation of the solar system. Scientists believe they delivered a vast quantity of water to Earth. They may have also seeded Earth with organic molecules – the building blocks of life as we know it.

Any finding of organic molecules and their identification by COSIMA will be a major discovery for Rosetta and ESA and inform us about the origin of life on Earth.

Data obtained so far from Rosetta’s VIRTIS instrument indicates the comets surface is too hot to be covered in ice and must instead have a dark, dusty crust.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

…….

Read my Rosetta series here:

What’s Ahead for Rosetta – ‘Finding a Landing Strip’ on Bizarre Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko

Rosetta Arrives at ‘Scientific Disneyland’ for Ambitious Study of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko after 10 Year Voyage

Rosetta on Final Approach to Historic Comet Rendezvous – Watch Live Here

Rosetta Probe Swoops Closer to Comet Destination than ISS is to Earth and Reveals Exquisite Views

Rosetta Orbiter less than 500 Kilometers from Comet 67P Following Penultimate Trajectory Burn

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 (3000 km distant) to July 31, 2014 (1327 km distant), with 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 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

Rosetta Arrives at ‘Scientific Disneyland’ for Ambitious Study of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko after 10 Year Voyage

The image of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko was taken by Rosetta’s OSIRIS narrow-angle camera on 3 August 2014 from a distance of 285 km. Credits: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA
Story updated[/caption]

“We’re at the comet! Yes,” exclaimed Rosetta Spacecraft Operations Manager Sylvain Lodiot, confirming the spacecraft’s historic arrival at Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko during a live webcast this morning, Aug. 6, from mission control at ESA’s spacecraft operations centre (ESOC) in Darmstadt, Germany.

The European Space Agency’s (ESA) Rosetta comet hunter successfully reached its long sought destination after a flawless orbital thruster firing at 11 AM CEST to become the first spacecraft in history to rendezvous with a comet and enter orbit aimed at an ambitious long term quest to produce ground breaking science.

“Ten years we’ve been in the car waiting to get to scientific Disneyland and we haven’t even gotten out of the car yet and look at what’s outside the window,” Mark McCaughrean, senior scientific adviser to ESA’s Science Directorate, said during today’s webcast. “It’s just astonishing.”

“The really big question is where did we and the solar system we live in come from? How did water and the complex organic molecules that build up life get to this planet? Water and life. These are the questions that motivate everybody.”

“Rosetta is indeed the ‘rosetta stone’ that will unlock this treasure chest to all comets.”

Today’s rendezvous climaxed Rosetta’s decade long and 6.4 billion kilometers (4 Billion miles) hot pursuit through interplanetary space for a cosmic kiss with Comet 67P while speeding towards the inner Solar System at nearly 55,000 kilometers per hour.

The probe is sending back spectacular up close high resolution imagery of the mysterious binary, two lobed comet, merged at a bright band at the narrow neck of the celestial wanderer that looks like a ‘rubber ducky.’

“This is the best comet nucleus ever resolved in space with the sharpest ever views of the nucleus, with 5.5.meter pixel resolution,” 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.

Back side view of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko was taken by Rosetta’s OSIRIS narrow-angle camera on 3 August 2014 from a distance of 285 km.   The image resolution is 5.3 metres/pixel. Credits: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA
Back side view of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko was taken by Rosetta’s OSIRIS narrow-angle camera on 3 August 2014 from a distance of 285 km. The image resolution is 5.3 metres/pixel. Credits: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

“We now see lots of structure and details. Lots of topography is visible on the surface. We see the nucleus and outgassing activity. The outbursts are seen with overexposed images. It’s really fantastic”

“There is a big depression on the head and 150 meter high cliffs, rubble piles, and also we see smooth areas and plains. The neck is about 1000 meters deep and is a cool area. There is outgassing visible from the neck.”

“We see a village of house size boulders. Some about 10 meters in size and bigger they vary in brightness. And some with sharp edges. We don’t know their composition yet.”

“We don’t understand how its created yet. That’s what we’ll find out in coming months as we get closer.”

“Rosetta has arrived and will get even closer. We’ll get ten times the resolution compared to now.”

“The comet is a story about us. It will be the key in cometary science. Where did it form? What does it tell us about the water on Earth and the early solar system and where it come from?”

Following the blastoff on 2 March 2004 tucked inside the payload fairing of an Ariane 5 G+ rocket from Europe’s spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, Rosetta traveled on a complex trajectory.

It conducted four gravity assist speed boosting slingshot maneuvers, three at Earth and one at Mars, to gain sufficient velocity to reach the comet, Lodiot explained.

The 1.3 Billion euro robotic emissary from Earth is now orbiting about 100 kilometers (62 miles) above the comet’s surface, some 405 million kilometers (250 million mi.) from Earth, about half way between the orbits of Jupiter and Mars.

The main event today, Aug. 6, was to complete an absolutely critical thruster firing which was the last of 10 orbit correction maneuvers (OCM’s). It started precisely on time at 11:00 AM CEST/09:00 GMT/5:00 AM EST, said Lodiot. The signal was one of the cleanest of the entire mission.

The orbital insertion engine firing dubbed the Close Approach Trajectory – Insertion (CATI) burn was scheduled to last about 6 minutes 26 seconds. Confirmation of a successful burn came some 28 minutes later.

“We’re at the comet! Yes,” Lodiot excitedly announced live whereupon the crowd of team members, dignitaries and journalists at ESOC erupted in cheers.

For the next 17 months, the probe will escort comet 67P as it loops around the Sun towards perihelion in August 2015 and then continue along on the outbound voyage towards Jupiter.

ESA’s incredibly bold mission will also deploy the three-legged piggybacked Philae lander to touch down and drill into and sample its incredibly varied surface a little over three months from now.

Together, Rosetta and Philae are equipped with a suite of 21 science instruments to conduct an unprecedented investigation to characterize the 4 km wide (2.5 mi.) comet and study how the pristine frozen body composed of ice and rock is transformed by the warmth of the Sun.

Comets are believed to have delivered a vast quantity of water to Earth. They may have also seeded Earth with organic molecules.

Close-up detail of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The image was taken by Rosetta’s OSIRIS narrow-angle camera and downloaded today, 6 August. The image shows the comet’s ‘head’ at the left of the frame, which is casting shadow onto the ‘neck’ and ‘body’ to the right.  The image was taken from a distance of 120 km and the image resolution is 2.2 metres per pixel. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA
Close-up detail of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The image was taken by Rosetta’s OSIRIS narrow-angle camera and downloaded today, 6 August. The image shows the comet’s ‘head’ at the left of the frame, which is casting shadow onto the ‘neck’ and ‘body’ to the right.
The image was taken from a distance of 120 km and the image resolution is 2.2 metres per pixel. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

Rosetta and Philae will also search for organic molecules, nucleic acids and amino acids, the building blocks for life as we know it by sampling and analyzing the comets nucleus and coma cloud of gas and dust.

“The first coma sampling could happen as early as next week,” said Matt Taylor, ESA’s Rosetta project scientist on the webcast.

“Is this double-lobed structure built from two separate comets that came together in the Solar System’s history, or is it one comet that has eroded dramatically and asymmetrically over time? Rosetta, by design, is in the best place to study one of these unique objects.”

After thoroughly mapping the comet, the team will command Rosetta to move even lower to 50 km altitude and then even lower to 30 km and less.

The scientists and engineers will search for up to five possible landing sites for Philae to prepare for the touchdown in mid-November 2014.

“We want to characterize the nucleus so we can land in November,” said Taylor. “We will have a ringside along with the comet as it moves inwards to the sun and then further out.”

Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko activity on 2 August 2014. The IMAGE was taken by Rosetta’s OSIRIS wide-angle camera from a distance of 550 km. The exposure time of the image was 330 seconds and the comet nucleus is saturated to bring out the detail of the comet activity. Note there is a ghost image to the right. The image resolution is 55 metres per pixel. Credits: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA
Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko activity on 2 August 2014. The IMAGE was taken by Rosetta’s OSIRIS wide-angle camera from a distance of 550 km. The exposure time of the image was 330 seconds and the comet nucleus is saturated to bring out the detail of the comet activity. Note there is a ghost image to the right. The image resolution is 55 metres per pixel. Credits: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

Studying comets will shed light on the history of water and life on Earth.

“We are going to places we have never been to before,” said Jean-Jacques Dordain, ESA’s Director General during the webcast.

“We want to get answers to questions to the origin to water and complex molecules on Earth. This opens up even more new questions than answers.”

ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft on final approach to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in early August 2014. This collage of navcam imagery from Rosetta was taken on Aug. 1, 2, 3 and 4 from distances of 1026 km, 500 km, 300 km and 234 km. Not to scale.  Credit: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM - Collage/Processing: Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com
ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft on final approach to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in early August 2014. This collage of navcam imagery from Rosetta was taken on Aug. 1, 2, 3 and 4 from distances of 1026 km, 500 km, 300 km and 234 km. Not to scale. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM – Collage/Processing: Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com

Watch for updates.

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

Ken Kremer

……..

Read my Rosetta series here:

Rosetta on Final Approach to Historic Comet Rendezvous – Watch Live Here

Rosetta Probe Swoops Closer to Comet Destination than ISS is to Earth and Reveals Exquisite Views

Rosetta Orbiter less than 500 Kilometers from Comet 67P Following Penultimate Trajectory Burn


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 (3000 km distant) to July 31, 2014 (1327 km distant), with 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 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

Rosetta Orbiter less than 500 Kilometers from Comet 67P Following Penultimate Trajectory Burn

The Rosetta comet chaser is currently less than 500 kilometers (300 miles) from its target destination, Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko following today’s (Aug. 3) successful completion of the spacecraft’s critically important penultimate trajectory burn, just three days before its history making arrival at the comet on Aug. 6.

The European Space Agency’s (ESA) 1.3 Billion euro Rosetta spacecraft is now under three days away from becoming Earth’s first probe ever to rendezvous with and enter orbit around a comet after a decade long hunt of 6.4 billion kilometers (4 Billion miles) through interplanetary space. The gap is narrowing with each passing second.

The last trajectory firing is set for Aug. 6. Altogether the final pair of trajectory burns will reduce the spacecrafts speed by some 3.5 meters per second (m/s) with respect to the comet which is traveling at 55,000 kilometers per hour (kph).

The probes latest Navcam camera image shot on Aug. 2, 2014 from a distance of about 500 kilometers from comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko shows exquisite detail of the rubber ducky shaped body tumbling end over end. See above.

See below our mosaic of navcam camera approach images of the nucleus captured over the past week and a half of the mysterious two lobed comet, merged at a bright band in between.

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 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 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

In November 2014, the Rosetta mothership will attempt another historic first when it deploys the Philae science lander from an altitude of just 1 or 2 kilometers for the first ever attempt to land on a comet’s nucleus. The lander will fire harpoons to anchor itself to the 4 kilometer wide (2.5 mile) comet’s surface.

Together, Rosetta and Philae will investigate how the pristine frozen comet composed of ice and rock is transformed by the warmth of the Sun. They will also search for organic molecules, nucleic acids and amino acids, the building blocks for life as we know it.

Did life on Earth begin with the help of comet seeding? That’s a question the Rosetta science team seeks to help answer.

Today’s early morning thruster firing, officially known as the Close Approach Trajectory – pre-Insertion (CATP) burn, began as scheduled at 11:00 CEST (09:00 GMT) and was due to last for about 13 minutes and 12 seconds and bleed off some 3.2 m/s of spacecraft speed.

Although it ended a few seconds early, ESA reports that the CATP burn went well as engineers monitored the spacecraft communications at the European Space Operations Centre (ESOC), in Darmstadt, Germany via the agency’s 35 meter deep-space tracking station in New Norcia, Australia.

“All looks good,” says Rosetta Spacecraft Operations Manager Sylvain Lodiot, according to an ESA operations tweet.

CATP is part of the final series of ten orbit correction maneuvers (OCM’s) that culminates with the final thruster firing slated for Aug. 6 dubbed the Close Approach Trajectory – Insertion (CATI) burn.

“The CATI burn will reduce the relative velocity to about 1 m/s,” says Lodiot. That’s about equivalent to human walking speed.

The CATI orbit insertion firing will slow Rosetta to essentially the same speed as a comet and place it in orbit at an initial stand-off distance of about 100 kilometers (62 miles).

Rosetta will initially be travelling in a series of 100 kilometer-long triangular arcs while firings thrusters at each apex. Further engine firings will gradually lower Rosetta’s altitude about Comet 67P until the spacecraft is captured by the comet’s gravity.

After catching up with the comet Rosetta will slightly overtake and enter orbit from the ‘front’ of the comet as both the spacecraft and 67P/CG move along their orbits around the Sun. Rosetta will carry out a complex series of manoeuvres to reduce the separation between the spacecraft and comet from around 100 km to 25-30 km. From this close orbit, detailed mapping will allow scientists to determine the landing site for the mission’s Philae lander. Immediately prior to the deployment of Philae in November, Rosetta will come to within just 2.5 km of the comet’s nucleus.  This animation is not to scale; Rosetta’s solar arrays span 32 m, and the comet is approximately 4 km wide.  Credit: ESA–C. Carreau
After catching up with the comet Rosetta will slightly overtake and enter orbit from the ‘front’ of the comet as both the spacecraft and 67P/CG move along their orbits around the Sun. Rosetta will carry out a complex series of manoeuvres to reduce the separation between the spacecraft and comet from around 100 km to 25-30 km. From this close orbit, detailed mapping will allow scientists to determine the landing site for the mission’s Philae lander. Immediately prior to the deployment of Philae in November, Rosetta will come to within just 2.5 km of the comet’s nucleus. This animation is not to scale; Rosetta’s solar arrays span 32 m, and the comet is approximately 4 km wide. Credit: ESA–C. Carreau

“All systems on the spacecraft are performing well and the entire team is looking forward to a smooth arrival,” says Lodiot.

It will study and map the wanderer composed of primordial ice, rock, dust and more and search for a suitable landing site for Philae.

The one-way signal time from Earth to Rosetta and Comet 67P is currently 22 minutes and 27 seconds as both loop around the Sun at a distance of some 555 million kilometres away from the Sun at this time. The short period comet is located between the orbits of Jupiter and Mars.

Rosetta will escort Comet 67P as they journey together inwards around the sun and then travel back out towards Jupiter’s orbit and investigate the physical properties and chemical composition of the comets nucleus and coma of ice and dust for some 17 months.

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

Rosetta was launched on 2 March 2004 on an Ariane 5 G+ rocket from Europe’s spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana.

You can watch Rosetta’s Aug. 6 orbital arrival live from 10:45-11:45 CEST via a livestream transmission from ESA’s spacecraft operations centre in Darmstadt, Germany.

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

Ken Kremer

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 – kenkremer.com
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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

Trojans May Yet Rain Down

It would be an interesting survey to catalog the initial reactions readers have to “Trojans”. Do you think first of wooden horses, or do asteroids spring to mind? Given the context of this website, I’d hope it’s the latter. If so, you’re thinking along the right lines. But how much do you really know about astronomical Trojans?

While most frequently used to discuss the set of objects in Jupiter’s orbital path that lie 60º ahead and behind the planet, orbiting the L4 and L5 Lagrange points, the term can be expanded to include any family of objects orbiting these points of relative stability around any other object. While Jupiter’s Trojan family is known to include over 3,000 objects, other solar system objects have been discovered with families of their own. Even one of Saturn’s moons, Tethys, has objects in its Lagrange points (although in this case, the objects are full moons in their own right: Calypso and Telesto).

In the past decade Neptunian Trojans have been discovered. By the end of this summer, six have been confirmed. Yet despite this small sample, these objects have some unexpected properties and may outnumber the number of asteroids in the main belt by an order of magnitude. However, they aren’t permanent and a paper published in the July issue of the International Journal of Astrobiology suggests that these reservoirs may produce many of the short period comets we see and “contribute a significant fraction of the impact hazard to the Earth.”

The origin of short period comets is an unusual one. While the sources of near Earth asteroids and long period comets have been well established, short period comets parent locations have been harder to pin down. Many have orbits with aphelions in the outer solar system, well past Neptune. This led to the independent prediction of a source of bodies in the far reaches by Edgeworth (1943) and Kuiper (1951). Yet others have aphelions well within the solar system. While some of this could be attributed to loss of energy from close passes to planets, it did not sufficiently account for the full number and astronomers began searching for other sources.

In 2006, J. Horner and N. Evans demonstrated the potential for objects from the outer solar system to be captured by the Jovian planets. In that paper, Horner and Evans considered the longevity of the stability of such captures for Jupiter Trojans. The two found that these objects were stable for billions of years but could eventually leak out. This would provide a storing of potential comets to help account for some of the oddities.

However, the Jupiter population is dynamically “cold” and does not contain a large distribution of velocities that would lead to more rapid shedding. Similarly, Saturn’s Trojan family was not found to be excited and was estimated to have a half life of ~2.5 billion years. One of the oddities of the Neptunian Trojans is that those few discovered thus far have tended to have high inclinations. This indicates that this family may be more dynamically excited, or “hotter” than that of other families, leading to a faster rate of shedding. Even with this realization, the full picture may not yet be clear given that searches for Trojans concentrate on the ecliptic and would likely miss additional members at higher inclinations, thus biasing surveys towards lower inclinations.

To assess the dangers of this excited population, Horner teamed with Patryk Lykawka to simulate the Neptunian Trojan system. From it, they estimated the family had a half life of ~550 million years. Objects leaving this population would then undergo several possible fates. In many cases, they resembled the Centaur class of objects with low eccentricities and with perihelion near Jupiter and aphelion near Neptune. Others picked up energy from other gas giants and were ejected from the solar system, and yet others became short period comets with aphelions near Jupiter.

Given the ability for this the Neptunian Trojans to eject members frequently, the two examined how many of the of short period comets we see may be from these reservoirs. Given the unknown nature of how large these stores are, the authors estimated that they could contribute as little as 3%. But if the populations are as large as some estimates have indicated, they would be sufficient to supply the entire collection of short period comets. Undoubtedly, the truth lies somewhere in between, but should it lie towards the upper end, the Neptunian Trojans could supply us with a new comet every 100 years on average.