After a journey of 10 years, of which 31 month were spend in hibernation, ESA’s spacecraft Rosetta has officially woken up! The radio signal transmitted from the ‘comet chaser’ was received by ESOC, Germany tonight at 7:18 PM (GMT).
Rosetta is designed to land on an actual flying comet, the 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, to gather information to help us understand how the Solar System was formed and how it evolved.
Why is it so important to study comets?
Comets are of great interest to scientists because, to our knowledge, they are the oldest, most primitive bodies in the Solar System, preserving the earliest record of material from the nebula out of which our Sun and planets were formed. Planets have gone through chemical transformations, but comets have remained almost unchanged. Furthermore, comets brought ‘volatile’ light elements to the planets and likely played an important role in forming oceans and atmospheres. Comets are also carry complex organic molecules that may have been involved in the origin of life on Earth.
Rosetta FAQ on esa.int
Rosetta is now about 673 million kilometers away from the Sun, and radio signals take up to 50 minutes to arrive. The spacecraft’s landing system operates in a similar way as the Mars lander, Curiosity - a seperate lander module will be detached from Rosetta at 1km above the comet surface and slowly make its way down. Once this lander, called Philae, has been successfully put on the comets surface in November, it will send the same HD quality pictures as those taken from Mars’ surface (but they will not be 3D).
The mission ends in December 2015. Rosetta will once again pass close to Earth’s orbit, more than 4000 days after its adventure began.
Read more on Rosetta here.