The adventure continues for Rosetta
29 June 2015
The European Space Agency is very happy to announce that the adventure will continue for the Rosetta spacecraft until September 2016. That’s nine whole months longer than originally planned!
Rosetta began its adventure in 2004 when it was launched into space on a mission to find a comet called 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. For 10 long years, the little spacecraft flew around the Solar System chasing after the comet, before finally reaching its destination in August last year.
But Rosetta's work didn’t end there. In fact, it had only just begun! Rosetta’s first job was to help Philae, the little probe it was carrying, to land safely on the comet’s surface. Its next job is to keep the comet company as it travels around the Sun.
In particular Rosetta will study how the comet changes as it reaches Perihelion (it’s pronounced Peri-HE-lee-on). This is the point in a comet’s orbit when it travels closest to the Sun (and will probably become very interesting!).
Comets are gigantic, dirty snowballs from the cold outer edge of our Solar System. As they get close to the Sun’s heat, icy material near the comet’s surface boils away, like steam rising from the kettle. This is how comets get the spectacular “tails” we see as they cross the night sky.
Thanks to the extension of Rosetta’s mission, the spacecraft will now get to study comet 67P as it passes perihelion and afterwards. This full “before and after” view of the event willprovide lots of new information about how comets change over time — particularly when they have a close encounter with the Sun.
But what will happen in September 2016, when Rosetta’s journey is finally over? Well, it seems only right that after riding alongside Comet 67P for so many months, Rosetta will end its mission by landing it. The two can then travel together for the rest of their journey around the Solar System.
Cool Fact: During the 9 extra months Rosetta will also have the chance to provide us with an up-close look at Philae, the probe that landed on the comet’s surface.