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Rosetta Comet Mission: Arrival Next Year!

Rosetta spacecraft en route to a comet. Credit: ESA

In the course of one orbit around the Sun, the comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko goes through different phases of activity. At a distance of 3.4 astronomical units (AU) a significant increase in brightness can be observed. Shortly before crossing the orbit of Mars the comet has developed it characteristic tail. Departing from the Sun, Churyumov-Gerasimenko is still very active and shows a dust trail, a structure composed of large dust particles emitted during the previous orbits of the comet. This trail can still be discerned at a distances of 4.9 astronomical units from the Sun. Credit: MPS

The en route space probe, the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Rosetta, is scheduled to rendezvous with comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko next year, deposit a lander on its surface, and accompany the comet on its way toward the Sun.

The ESA mission offers a unique chance to study all phases of the onset of cometary activity from close-up.

Now, new research indicates the target comet is likely to start emitting gas and dust earlier than previously expected.

In fact, the comet’s activity should be measurable from Earth by March 2014. That’s the word from a group of researchers under the lead of the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research (MPS) in Germany.

Many ground-based telescopes will be pointed towards Churyumov-Gerasimenko to complement the data obtained by Rosetta.

“Churyumov-Gerasimenko could be active by March of next year,” explains Colin Snodgrass from the MPS in a Max Planck Institute press statement.

Two months prior to this, in January 2014, Rosetta will be awakened from its hibernation phase. After its awakening in March 2014, the researchers expect the comet to reach its peak activity in mid-September 2015 – almost one month after perihelion.

ESA’s space probe Rosetta was launched in 2004 and is scheduled to reach its destination, the comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko, in 2014.

In the autumn of 2014 the lander, Philae, will touch down on the comet’s surface.

By Leonard David

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