Egypt-inspired probe Rosetta to land on comet
The European Space Agency’s Rosetta mission will release its Egyptology-inspired probe on Nov. 12 on to the surface of a comet the spaceship has been chasing for the past decade.
Named after an obelisk found in 1815 Egypt by a British adventurer, the mission aims to obtain material that may reveal clues about the origins of our universe.
If the Philae probe successfully arrives on the comet’s surface, it will mark the first soft landing on top of a moving comet.
In cometary dust retrieved by a NASA mission, scientists found glycine, an amino acid that is a basic building block of life, the British daily reported.
The ESA launched the Rosetta in 2004 and has been chasing the chasing 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko comet ever since then when it finally caught up with it in August, a seemingly impossible feat.
The object is moving at a speed of almost 40,000 kilometers per hour and is a little wider than 4 kilometers, which posed a serious challenge to the mission as scientists compared it to a fly trying to land on a speeding bullet.
Additionally, the comet’s terrain is filled with cliffs, steep slopes and canyons.
There is no room for errors as if the Philae is released one centimeter out of alignment it would miss the landing spot by hundreds of meters.
The Rosetta managed to catch the comet by making use of Earth’s and Mars’ gravitational pull, which acted as a sling shot allowing the spaceship to pick up its acceleration.
The mission reached its target speed in July 2011 when the spacecraft was put on deep-space hibernation mode so it could carry through the coldest and most distant part of the journey, close to the Jupiter’s orbit, 497 million miles away from the sun.
Until January of this year, the Rosetta only had its computers and a number of heaters running when scientists reactivated to spread its solar arms to harvest some of the sun’s rays placing it in a slow spinning motion to maintain stability.
After landing on the comet, the Philae will map the body and drill into the surface to obtain material that may reveal clues about the origins of the galaxy and earth.
In October, scientists behind the mission met with Egyptologists at an English country estate to mark the link between the trip and a 19th-century adventurer responsible for the Egypt-inspired names in the trip.
Kingston Lacy, where the scientists and Egyptologists met, was the home of William John Bankes, the adventurer who found the Philae Obelisk in Egypt in 1815 and brought it to his estate where it stood for almost 200 years.
Bankes deciphered the Greek inscription on the Obelisk. His work led others to “crack” the code to the hieroglyphs, which allowed archaeologists and Egyptologists to decrypt the Rosetta stone and other ancient Egyptian artifacts.
The architects of the mission were drawn to the significance of the Rosetta Stone, and more towards the mysterious Philae obelisk.
While scientists continue to map encryptions on the obelisk revealing more information about the time and age it came from, James Grasby, a curator for the modern custodian of Kingston Lacy, the National Trust, described the events as a “wonderful collision” between the two different fields.