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Rosetta probe reaches comet to study origins of life

Rosetta Probe Reaches Comet To Study Origins Of Life

Ten years, four billion miles, and several complicated maneuvers later, the Rosetta probe is readying itself to enter orbit around Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko (that's Chury, for short) and make history.

After much planning during the 1990s, the European Space Agency, or ESA, launched Rosetta in 2004 from French Guiana to the tune of 1.3 billion euros with the expressed purpose of eventually meeting the 2-mile-wide Chury in deep space.

​In order to do that, the probe had to undergo a winding series of maneuvers to reach the comet including using Earth as a space slingshot not once, but three times, and going into a deep space hibernation for two and a half years.

It woke up from that hibernation in January of this year and has been steadily approaching Chury ever since.

Now that it's finally within orbitting distance of Chury, Rosetta will match its speed, perform several triangular orbits as it approaches, and deploy a fridge-sized lander called "Philae" in November once it gets close enough.

So beyond the fact that both orbiting and landing on a comet will be historical firsts for mankind, what's the point of Rosetta's mission? Simple: one researcher tells the BBC, it's to learn more about where we came from.

"The biggest question that we're trying to get an answer to is where did life on earth come from. It's like, did it start, how did life get going, was it the building blocks of life that were brought to us from comets."

​​Discover Magazine notes that seeing as how comets have been around since before planets themselves even existed, "They consist of material that's believed to be relatively pristine. ... Scientists hope to gain valuable insights into the origin and evolution of the solar system, including our own planet."

The odd shape of the comet, which some have compared to a rubber duck, may pose a problem for landing, though. The Guardian spoke to a member of the research team who seemed a little concerned.

"The scientists are saying, 'Which bit do we want to land on?,' and the engineers are saying, 'Blimey, how will its shape affect the gravitational field?' At the end of the day we just want a safe landing. We've been waiting a long time for this."​

But, as a writer over at The Planetary Society notes, ESA plans to select five candidate landing sites by the end of the month and a final site by mid-September. So they still have plenty of time to figure out how they want to touch down.

ESA will be live streaming Rosetta's final approach starting Wednesday morning.

Join the discussion

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Cristina August 06 2014 at 3:37 AM

Wow, 10 years. I think it's so amazing that this can be done, to send a man made machine into deep space. 4 billion miles! The Sun is only 93 million miles away from Earth. That's amazing that this can be done. It's very exciting and I applaud the scientists behind this. Good job.

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1 reply
doonooch Cristina August 06 2014 at 7:14 AM

i agree. the navigation computations and the commands it takes to position this vehicle in just the right spot (considering how long it takes for light / electronic signal to reach the receiver) is mind boggling. This is the best of humankind

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1 reply
Dan doonooch August 06 2014 at 12:44 PM

And sadly this article will receive 15 comments and just a couple thousand views while that article about Kim Kardashian will get 25,000 comments and millions of views.

The brainpower it takes to do the stuff they do with these space probes is beyond mind-boggling, it's near super-human.

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hyyr August 06 2014 at 7:57 AM

Wow, that is an amazing feat of technology. Some extremely tricky math must have gone into this. What a relief to see that mankind is still bothering to explore the question of how everyone got here, in spite of the wars, grief & religious close-mindedness. Best of luck, guys! Just getting the probe into position is amazing, plus they are going to attempt a landing! Wish my dad was still around to see this.

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Mike Burnett August 06 2014 at 5:15 AM

MNaybe they ought to build a probe and send it to Washington, D.C., to see if any life exist there, too!

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3 replies
suprdadd August 06 2014 at 7:17 AM

I could have saved them a whole lot of money by informing them that life was created by God.

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6 replies
rrkutulu August 06 2014 at 2:19 PM

God?? You must be from the south.

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npaleorelic August 06 2014 at 6:55 AM

I think this is a test to later resettle illegal immigrants onto the surfaces of comets

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2 replies
doonooch npaleorelic August 06 2014 at 7:10 AM


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cbza3600 npaleorelic August 06 2014 at 8:24 AM

did that joke go over well on the bathroom wall in your grade school? sorry to say it fell flat here.

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BILLY August 06 2014 at 4:14 AM

It is wonderful.Yet man cannot stop killing everyone and everything in his path.
Like Dr.Stephen Hawking says we might just fight a life form more advanced and ruthless than our own.

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MIchigan Man August 06 2014 at 9:31 AM

Amazing what intelligent people can do with mathematics.

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Scott August 07 2014 at 7:35 AM

Genesis 2:7 " And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being."

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microflight5 August 06 2014 at 7:48 AM


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