Thursday, August 13, 2015

Comet and Rosetta Spacecraft Make Closest Approach To Sun

A gas and particle jettison from comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko was captured by Rosetta’s OSIRIS narrow-angle camera on July 29, 2015.  The images were taken from a distance of 116 miles (186 kilometers) from the center of the comet. The jet is estimated to have a minimum speed of 33 feet per second (10 meters per second) and originates from a location on the comet’s neck. 
Credits: ESA/Rosetta/MPS

The first comet to ever have a spacecraft soft land on its surface made its closest approach to the Sun on Thursday, August 13, 2015. 

Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, along with the European Space Agency's Rosetta orbital spacecraft and Philae lander were 116 million miles (186 million kilometers) from the Sun. The comet will not be this close to the Sun, called the "perihelion" of its orbit, for another 6.5 years.

Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko has become more active in recent months due to the increasing solar energy warming the comet’s frozen elements and transforming some of those elements into gas and light dust particles which are jettisoned into outer space.

The Rosetta mission was launched over a decade ago. During this long voyage, Rosetta had to make three gravitational sling shot maneuvers around the Earth and one around Mars to gain enough speed to catch up with the comet.

Rosetta neared the icy comet on August 6, 2014.  After several months of maneuvering the spacecraft into a precise orbit around the comet, Rosetta launched its Philae probe which landed on the comet on November 12, 2014.

The Philae lander continues to collect data about the comet's chemical composition and how those chemicals react when heated by the Sun. Meanwhile, the Rosetta spacecraft orbits 116 miles above the comet, capturing images of the gasses and dust emitted from the icy body. Scientists hope that this data will shed more light on the evolution of our solar system. 

For readers who want to take a closer look at Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, the European Space Agency has made public a 3-D interactive viewer created with data sent back from the Rosetta mission.