It was long trip, but the Rosetta Space Probe is finally nearing its destination, Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Yeah, that’s a mouthful on the name, but the science about to take place is incredible. Rosetta had to travel 10-years and 4 billion miles to effectively escort the comet as it approaches the sun.
If that’s not enough to get the astronomer in you going, in November, Rosetta is scheduled to deploy a lander to the surface of the comet. The rendezvous with the comet is scheduled for August 6, and is a key milestone in the 10-year mission.
The journey of Rosetta was one of multiple speed-boosting flybys. It swung past the sun five times, and Earth three. A sizable chunk of the trip was spent in hibernation. The team woke the probe up in January after a record-setting 957 days of hibernation.
November will be the critical date. This is when Rosetta will drop its lander dubbed Philae to the comet’s surface. If all goes according to plan, Philae will drill into the surface of the comet for samples and take pictures.
From there, both Rosetta and Philae will monitor the comet as it approaches and then whips around the sun. Both the probe and lander will be able to monitor the changes that occur on the comet. Researchers will then use the data to understand our solar system’s evolution.
Rosetta’s escort mission is to run from Wednesday till December 2015. Matt Taylor, a project scientists, explained what will be happening during the escort and lander phase to Space.com.
“All the time we are looking, and sniffing the comet, and with the lander (over a shorter time period) scratching and sniffing,” Taylor said. “All this will provide us with an unprecedented view of a comet, its nucleus and coma and how this all works!”